"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Friday, April 17, 2009

For the record

From proceedings in the Bow-Wow Parliament on May 7, 2007:
MS FOOTE: I rise today to speak not just to the amendment but particularly to the amendment, I suppose, because we are talking about a really important position in our Province; that, of course, of the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Members’ Interests.

For anyone to suggest that this is a position that can be filled by anyone who has a party affiliation just as well as it can be filled by anyone who has maybe been a lifelong career servant is dreaming in technicolour, Mr. Speaker. I say that because the irony of all of this is that when the press release came out about the new Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Members’ Interests there was no mention whatsoever of his political affiliation.

If it was not an issue, I do not know why it would not have been included in the press release under his biographical information. In fact, even Mr. Reynolds’ own biographical information does not include any of his political affiliation. That, to me, says volumes there, if it was something that somehow the government thought, well, maybe this is not such a good thing. This is a position that should be filled by someone who is non-partisan.

Whether or not Mr. Reynolds can fill that role I do not know. I really do not know. I do not know Mr. Reynolds. The Member for Placentia & St. Mary’s just mentioned how long he has known him, how much he respects him, and - give him the credit. If he knows him, then by all means get up on your feet and say that, but at the end of the day you also have to appreciate that there are those of us who will be affected by whomever holds this position who does not know Mr. Reynolds and who cannot stand here and say that he is a great man, that we have no worries about whether or not he will be non-partisan. We do not know that, so why put any of us in a position where we have to question whether or not this gentleman will be non-partisan? Why go down that path when it is totally unnecessary?

There are so many people out there who could fill this position, who have not been so highly affiliated with any political party. In fact, there are people who probably we have no idea how they vote, people who are involved in the career civil service who, if you were to ask me what their political stripe was, I would have to say I really do not know and it is none of my business. It is that type of individual, it is that person, who we need to be filling this particular role.

It is the position that we are talking about here, not the individual. We need someone filling this position who we can all feel comfortable will do the job that needs to be done. I think that when we look at democracy and the fact that this position must be filled by an individual who will have to ensure that our elections are run on the up and up, that it is beyond reproach, that when you are talking about a Commissioner of Members’ Interests, we need someone there who is going to look at the documentation without a jaundice eye, who is not going to say, well, look at this or look at that, or this person has this or that person has that. We all need to have that level of comfort, and that level of comfort comes with having an individual who is non-partisan, and that has been the practice since time immemorial.

I point to Mr. Furey, our last Chief Electoral Officer and Commissioner of Members’ Interests. Yes, he was politically affiliated for quite some time. He was a Liberal Cabinet minister, but Mr. Furey had not been involved in politics for five years when he was appointed to this position.

Now, that is quite different from Mr. Reynolds’ political affiliation when, in fact, he resigned from being I think it was the President of Virginia Waters PC Association the day after he was appointed to this position by the Premier. I say appointed to the position by the Premier because, even though it is here before us in the House of Assembly and we all get to vote, we know that majority rules, and even though there was a call that came from the Premier’s office - I am not sure who made the call, I know it was not the Premier - to the Leader of the Opposition, there was no consultation. There was no opportunity to express a view that: Do you think this is the right thing? We would prefer that you probably revert it to the process of having someone from the Public Service fill this position. That just was not the case.

We were told - the Leader of the Opposition was told - that it was Mr. Reynolds that the Premier wanted in this position, and Mr. Reynolds it will be. That is the way that this government has operated for the last three-and-a-half years. This is the way it is going to be, whether you like or not.

So, we can stand here on our feet and we can question what is happening here today, just like we have questioned other decisions that have been made by the Premier and the government, but at the end of the day all we can do is question and try to appeal to the government to get them to understand that it is not only those of us in this House of Assembly who are concerned, but it is the people we represent.

We are talking about elections in this Province. We are talking about making sure that democracy is at work. We are talking about making sure that elections are run in the manner in which they are intended to be run, that there is no issue when it comes to special ballots, that there is no issue when it comes to by-elections.

At this point in time I sincerely believe, as I am sure others do, that we need to have an individual who will do that and not be questioned about whether or not he did it based in a non-partisan manner.

Now, I do not know Mr. Reynolds, and maybe you are right. Maybe, as the Member for Placentia & St. Mary’s says, he is an honourable man - I have no doubt about that - but I do not know Mr. Reynolds well enough to be able to stand here and vote for him as a person who should fill this particular position; and, if I do not feel comfortable about that, then I want to be able to voice my views on that, as I am sure other people do, and suggest to the government that here is an opportunity to do what is right here.

When the Member for Placentia & St. Mary’s stood on his feet today and said: You know, there are more important things we should be dealing with - with all due respect to him, at this point in time this is what we are dealing with, and this is important. This deals with elections, and we have an election coming up in this Province in October. We should all feel comfortable, everybody in this Province should feel comfortable, that it is going to be handled in a manner that is beyond reproach.

Today, I have to tell you, I do not have that level of comfort only because I think the position needs to be filled by someone who is not affiliated with a particular party, someone who is not carrying their politics on their sleeve. Not one individual in this House today can say that Mr. Reynolds does not carry his particular brand of politics on his sleeve.

We all know where he has been, we all know where he has come from, we all know the different positions he has held in the PC Party. He wears it proudly. He said so. He is quoted in the newspapers as talking about how proud he is to be affiliated with the PC Party, and that is his right. I do not question that. That is his right, but it is also our right to question whether or not we think someone who wears his political stripe on his sleeve so proudly should be in a position that should be non-partisan.

Anyone thinking this through would have to agree that, whether or not Mr. Reynolds can carry out this job in a non-partisan way, the perception is what is important here as well. For anyone, who knows what this job is meant to do, anyone who knows the duties and responsibilities of this job, anyone who understands that the person in this position will have to deal with every member in the House of Assembly when it comes to their members’ interests, their conflict of interest statements, anyone who knows that this particular position is so important in ensuring that elections are carried out in a manner that cannot be questioned so that at the end of the day the individuals who are elected as members to represent the interests of the populous at large, anyone would have to question whether or not someone with such close political ties will really do the job that needs to be done. Maybe he will. As I said, I do not know him well enough to know whether he will or not.

That is not the issue here. The issue here, and as the amendment said, is that we need to have someone who is non-partisan. Whether you believe it or not or whether you want to believe it or not or you refuse to admit, there is no way - no way! - that anyone, or I believe at least, that anyone who has been involved so long with a particular political party, who has been speaking very openly and very proud of his involvement with any political party, can do this job or be seen to do this job in a transparent way. That is what this is all about. It is about transparency, it is about ensuring that this particular job which is so important to all of us here and to the people that we represent, that this job is carried out in a manner that is beyond reproach.

I listened again to the Member for Placentia & St. Mary’s talk about, you know, a judge and how they get to be judges and whether or not their past political affiliation has any bearing on the job that they do. To try and compare the two is beyond me. In fact, when he started to do that I thought: Is this a lawyer himself who is speaking here, who is suggesting in any way, shape or form that the appointment of a judge is comparable to the appointment of the Chief Electoral Officer? A judge goes through a very detailed interview process, a process that takes forever in some cases it appears. I would expect the Member for Placentia & St. Mary’s would know that and would admit that; but, no, he stands in his place today and suggests: Wait now! A Chief Electoral Officer is comparable to appointing a -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS FOOTE: At the end of the day, there is no comparison here. We would like to see that comparison, though, and we would like to see an interview process. Why not? Why not make it along the lines of a process that you would go through to appoint a judge? Maybe it does not have to be as extensive, but this is an important position. We believe, on this side of the House of Assembly, that an interview process would be appropriate. Why not have an all-party committee interview for this particular process? Why not? It would take away the doubt. The government would not have to face any questions about whether or not the individual is qualified to do this position or whether or not there is any degree of question about whether or not his political stripe is coming into play here.

It is a prime opportunity for the government to do this in a way that would be acceptable to everyone because I would think it would be acceptable to the government members as well. How could they question the opportunity to have someone appointed to this particular position of Chief Electoral Officer, to have an opportunity to actually interview someone for the position? At the end of the day, the best person obviously would be chosen. Maybe it is a process that the government should consider instead of going down the path of saying: No, we are going with this person who has been involved with our party for years, who is very proud to be a member of our party. Instead of going through all of this and the perception that goes with that, take this opportunity to actually have an interview process, an all-party committee to interview the individuals who are interested.

Why aren’t we advertising the position? I am sure there are a lot of people out there who are more than qualified and who would welcome an opportunity to fill this particular position, because it is a position of great importance to the Province and to the people of the Province. Why wouldn’t you advertise it? Why wouldn’t you just suggest that, yes, we are going down that path, let’s forget where we are today. I am sure Mr. Reynolds would understand. No one likes to be appointed to a position when they have gone through all of this and the commentary that has been made and the questions that are being raised. I am sure he would welcome it. Most people would welcome an opportunity to compete for a position and then let the chips fall where they may. Why not give this man a chance to compete for this job instead of appointing him to a job and then have all of these questions being raised about him. No one likes to have that happen to them.

Let’s think about Mr. Reynolds here. The government should be thinking about what is best for him, as well as what is best for the Province and what is best for the people of the Province. When you are trying to fill this position of Chief Electoral Officer and Commissioner of Members’ Interests, put someone in there who can do the job in a non-partisan manner. You know, if Mr. Reynolds applies and there is an all-party committee that interviews him, and at the end of the day he wins that competition, then more power to him. At least he has gone through the process, like a judge would do, contrary to what the Member for Placentia & St. Mary’s has said. Let’s do it in the same way that we take care of our judges when we need to appoint a judge. Let’s go and do it in a responsible manner, instead of just suggesting we are going to appoint someone who has had a history with a political party, who is now being expected to take that hat off, put it aside, never to let it come into play again, never to let it influence any decisions he or she might have to make, never have questions raised about whether or not they can be non-partisan. We should not even be debating this today because it should be done in a manner that ensures that the individual who is going to fill this position is one who is non-partisan. We do not know that to be the case today.

As I said before, I do not know Mr. Reynolds, and he may be quite capable of taking off that PC hat and laying it to one side, and when any issue arises in a provincial election, or in a by-election, when the votes are counted and it is close, that he will never do anything that will lead one to believe that he favours one party over another. Maybe he can, I do not know, but why should any of us have to doubt it? Why should any of us be put in this position where we doubt whether or not that non-partisan attitude will come into play? We do not know. It is not fair to us, it is not fair to the people of the Province and it not fair to Mr. Reynolds to be in this position today. It was completely avoidable, if the Premier had picked up the phone, called the Leader of the Opposition, and said: Why don’t we put in place an all-party committee? Why don’t we advertise the position? Is that something you think is a good thing to do? Because that is what I would like to do. We will advertise the position. We will see who is qualified out there, who is interested in applying. Then we will go through an interview process and we will get the best person possible to fill this job, the best person in the Province to be the Chief Electoral Officer, the best person to be the Commissioner of Members’ Interests.

That may very well have turned out to be Mr. Reynolds, but we do not know and we will never know, unfortunately, because even though we have our amendment here and we are discussing our amendment today, an amendment that calls on the individual who is filling this position to be non-partisan, we will never know because at the end of the day when the vote is taken, of course, the majority will rule. We will have the Premier getting his way, and we will have those of us who are questioning what is going on here being left to question, and that is all we can do. All we can do is raise the issues, raise the issues and try and get through to the government that these are serious issues that need to be dealt with, that they should not be just brushed off, that they should not just be something to be swept under the carpet and never to be dealt with again.

Unfortunately, you are getting headlines in the papers: election posting raises concerns; appointment causes backlash. Mr. Reynolds has to be concerned about this. I would not want to accept a position where headlines were saying: appointment causes backlash; election posting raises concerns.

That is not fair to him, it is not fair to us, and it is not fair to the people of the Province, to be in a position where the Premier decides who it is going to be. When the vote comes down, the government will decide.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home