Friday, April 21, 2006

others were muzzled, this one will be paid/bought cheap ...

PM's nominee accused of bias
Apr. 21, 2006, CANADIAN PRESS

Partisan remarks by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's nominee for chairman of the new Public Appointments Commission have raised questions about Gwyn Morgan's ability to carry out his duties with the confidence of Parliament.

Morgan was president and chief executive officer of Canada's largest energy company, EnCana Corp., from 2002 until he stepped down Jan. 1, and he was named Canada's most respected CEO in a survey conducted by Ipsos Reid last year.

In a speech to the Empire Club in Toronto last Feb. 22 — a month after the Conservatives came into power — Morgan praised the ethics and honesty of Harper while attacking the former Liberal government.

"We have witnessed the party that governed our country over most of its history, embroiled in behaviour that is comparable to that of countries at the bottom of the world corruption index," Morgan said in his speech.

"We saw an orchestrated attempt to impugn a Canadian political leader (Harper) whose integrity is beyond reproach and a person who openly honours Christian values, but respects all religions."

Those comments, along with others defending Trade Minister David Emerson's defection from the Liberals to the Conservatives, raised a red flag for the Opposition Liberals.

"There's no doubt that there's a clear bias in Morgan's remarks," said Navdeep Bains, MP for Mississauga-Brampton South and the Liberal critic for public works and government services. "It shows a lack of judgment on making his comments, and more importantly, this individual is supposed to be in a non-partisan position to end patronage.

"Most of all, I would question his judgment in selecting appointments for government agencies, boards and Crown corporations. Is he really going to reflect a merit-based approach when it comes to appointments?"

Morgan said Friday he was simply "expressing the truth" in his speech to the Empire Club.

"If they're saying only Liberals should be appointed or NDP members, it doesn't make any sense to me," he said. "I happen to be a Conservative but I also happen to have a reputation that speaks for itself.

In the job, created under the Conservative government's new Accountability Act, Morgan will develop guidelines, review and approve selection processes proposed by ministers to fill vacancies within their portfolios, and report publicly on government compliance with the guidelines.

"We would first establish a code of conduct and once we have that in place it will be transmitted to all those ministries and agencies that propose appointments," he said.

"We'll be setting the standards on how it's to be done then we'll be reviewing to make sure it actually gets done but we will not be making appointments."

Harper calls Morgan "an outstanding Canadian" who has championed transparency and ethics in the private and public sectors throughout his career.

Bains said the love-in between Morgan and Harper makes him wonder just how closely the EnCana CEO will question any decisions made by the Conservative government.

"The notion is one can do no wrong, and it boggles the mind so see such a good friend, such a biased, partisan individual, be appointed to a position that's supposed to be at least objective and neutral when it comes to appointments."

Morgan must first pass muster before the Commons committee on government operations and estimates before the appointment becomes official.

He might also be questioned on his views on multiculturalism, since he warned in the same speech that it could become a value that divides Canadians rather unites them.

"Recent riots in France and Australia are timely and troubling examples," he said. "It seems as if `multiculturalism' in these countries has created `subcultures' bearing little relation to the mainstream culture and values of the country."

The optics of the appointment are bad despite Morgan's reputation, says a political scientist at the University of Lethbridge.

"The tricky part is the appearance of conflict, and certainly a speech like that — well, it does cast a bit of a shadow over Morgan's appointment," said Henry Jansen.

"Part of what it reflects is the difficulty the Conservatives have created for themselves because their whole campaign was they were going to govern by higher ethical standards.

"Anytime they fall short it creates a bad impression that way, but I think it's a self-created problem by the Conservatives."

Morgan will be paid $1 a year.