Stink won’t wash from minister’s appointment

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Alfred Moses, minister responsible for the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission, with friends and family during his first election victory in 2011. Maia Lepage, who Moses recently awarded with a $130,000 a year job as a workers’ adviser with the commission, is at the far right in the photo wearing the dark blue sweater. Lepage previously served Moses as campaign agent, constituency assistant and senior adviser. NNSL file photo

Does Alfred Moses know what cronyism is?

We ask because he doesn’t seem to know, or perhaps doesn’t care.

It’s also known as nepotism, patronage and conflict of interest, but whatever you want to call it, it is absolutely assured to undercut people’s faith in the politicians they elect to work on their behalf.

Last year, Moses awarded a three-year contract for a Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC) workers’ adviser to his longtime aide Maia Lepage. She has previously worked as his campaign agent, constituency assistant and senior adviser.

But her latest job is especially sweet. As adviser, she gets to help injured workers receive fair compensation from their employers for a cool $130,000 per year but the appointment has left a sour taste in a number of mouths.

Facing questions from Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart in the legislative assembly on Feb. 21, Moses defiantly refused to reconsider the appointment or explain why the position wasn’t publicly tendered. Instead he repeatedly insisted that he had the authority to hand her the six-figure job, as if that was justification enough.

“I’m not going into the details of somebody’s resume,” said Moses. “The individual is very well-qualified and has done a lot of work at the regional, territorial and even national level.”

As minister, Moses does indeed have the authority to appoint the workers’ adviser, but the hiring process has traditionally been open to the public. This was the case for Patrick Scott, the previous adviser, who answered a want ad in the newspaper and went through the interviewing process before landing the job.

But this time around no one else was allowed to apply. Lepage was handed the position and Moses doesn’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with that.

We’re not calling Lepage’s qualifications into question here – she sounds like a very accomplished person – it’s the minister we’re worried about and his disconcerting lack of judgment.

Why were no other candidates allowed to compete for the job? Why would he refuse to reverse the appointment? Does he not see how people might view his appointment as nothing more than crass political payback to the person who helped him get elected?

In 1984, Pierre Trudeau handed out hundreds of positions to his faithful allies. John Turner, his successor, refused to reverse the patronage appointments, which led to his downfall at the hands of Brian Mulroney, who went on to win the largest majority government in Canadian history.

Last week, Justin Trudeau was in the hot water after former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told the House of Commons justice committee that she faced pressure from the prime minister and his associates to stop criminal proceedings against Quebec-based and Liberal-friendly engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

Now people are asking whom Justin Trudeau was trying to protect by intervening in the case.

Moses’ appointment might not have been illegal, but the appearance of cronyism clearly exists and that is a problem in and of itself.

Appointing a longtime aide to a lucrative job was a violation of the public trust and demonstrates to NWT residents that Moses is willing to use his authority to put his friends first, which means everybody else comes second. And that’s not how government in a democracy is supposed to work.

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