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If Federal Conservatives Had Kept Their Promise to Create an Independent Public Appointments Commission in 2006, Cabinet Ministers Would Be Sheltered From Accusations of Rewarding Party Favours With Appointments

Set out below is a letter to the editor by Democracy Watch Coordinator Duff Conacher which was published in shorter, edited form in the May 25, 2009 issue of the National Post, in the May 29, 2009 issue of the Edmonton Journal, and on Canada.com

Dear Editor:

Politics columnist Don Martin is incorrect when he claims that prosecutors have a problem if they can only prove that Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien was "pretending to hold enough sway to deliver a National Parole Board" appointment to his election rival during the 2006 city election with the help of Conservative Cabinet Minister John Baird ("The culture of Ottawa on trial" - May 22).

In fact, anyone can violate ss. 121(1)(d) of the Criminal Code by simply "pretending to have influence with the government or with a minister of the government or an official" while "directly or indirectly" offering any government benefit to another person (including an appointment) in return for any benefit.

Obtaining benefits by pretending to have influence over the government is illegal specifically to counter the favour-trading mentality and influence peddlers that, Mr. Martin correctly notes, are so common in federal politics (and across Canada).

If the federal Conservatives had kept their election promise in 2006 to establish an independent Public Appointments Commission to search for, screen and nominate qualified candidates for Cabinet appointments, an effective safeguard against such appointment-influence peddling would have existed to help protect Minister Baird from allegations he played a role in the secret deal at the heart of the O'Brien affair.

Instead, very unfortunately, the Conservatives have continued patronage and crony politics as usual, appointing many friends and party supporters to the Senate and other positions (among the more than 1,000 appointments they have made since being elected).

The Conservatives recently reaffirmed their election promise.  However, until they or opposition parties create the Commission, Canadians can justifiably assume that federal Cabinet appointments will continue to be offered as a reward for doing something for the ruling party, and that at least some Cabinet ministers are involved in such favour-trading.

Anyone looking for one of the root causes of the high level of voter distrust and disgust with Canadian politicians can find it in this all-too-typical, multi-decade delay in enacting key good government measures like the Public Appointments Commission.

So, will any party finally take the lead in cleaning up the federal Cabinet's appointment process, or will the corrupt patronage games continue for decades more?

Duff Conacher, Coordinator
Democracy Watch

For more details, go to Democracy Watch's Voter Rights Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign