Harper cabinet unleashes patronage

Weeks before Stephen Harper named some of his closest Tory friends to the Senate, his cabinet quietly approved a flood of appointments to federal boards that also rewarded party faithful.

OTTAWA — Weeks before Stephen Harper named some of his closest Tory friends to the Senate, his cabinet quietly approved a flood of appointments to federal boards that also rewarded party faithful.

At least 20 of the 111 appointments made Aug. 4 went to identifiable federal and provincial Conservative donors and supporters.

That includes a failed candidate in Vancouver, a top organizer with the Nova Scotia party, and a would-be Senate nominee from Alberta.

The postings come with per diems of up to $450 for part-time positions and salaries of up to $118,000 a year for full-time posts.

Some of the bodies involved were: the Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada Pension Plan review tribunals, employment insurance referee boards, the parole board, coastal pilotage authorities, port authorities and museum boards.

Nearly a third of the posts were first-time assignments and the remainder were renewals of three-year terms set to expire in late October or November.

The rush of appointments followed a little-noticed series of judicial appointments to superior courts across the country in July.

That round brought the total number of superior court judges appointed by the Harper government to 201 since 2006.

It also further fuelled opposition claims that the prime minister has abandoned election promises of transparency and merit-based public-service and judicial appointments.

Conservative appointments to courts, boards, quasi-judicial tribunals and Crown corporations now total an estimated 3,000 since Harper became prime minister.

The Tories are also closing in on the Liberals in the Senate after Harper’s appointment of nine senators Thursday, including at least two close advisers.

Several of the earlier judicial posts went to lawyers with Tory connections.

Harper has yet to establish his promised Public Appointments Commission to set standards and criteria for cabinet nominations to federal posts.

That despite the fact that Treasury Board documents show a four-person secretariat set up to support the commission has cost taxpayers a total of $3.6 million since 2006.

A spokesman defended the prime minister’s approach, noting Harper shelved the Public Appointments Commission after the opposition parties opposed his nomination to lead the new agency — former Calgary energy executive Gwyn Morgan.

“The opposition decided to play partisan political games with that nomination and, as such, our government was unable to fill the position,” said Dimitri Soudas.

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