It started as an effort by the NDP’s Steve Cardiff to make MLAs rise above partisan bickering and work toward the public good, by cleaning-up the government’s appointment of board members.
It ended as political farce, as the government first gutted Cardiff’s motion, and then voted against it anyway.
“The government shot this down,” a dismayed Cardiff told the legislature yesterday.
Not only that, but opposition and government MLAs smirked and chuckled as this bizarre spectacle occurred on Wednesday.
Most MLAs could at least agree it was funny. But not Cardiff.
He had wanted an independent commission to review the rules that guide government boards and report back to the legislature by this spring. The way he pitched it, this would be a win-win for everyone.
He’s worried that the perception of political interference in board operations has made qualified Yukoners reluctant to volunteer their time to sitting on these bodies, which are supposed to be independent of government.
Such concerns have been raised following public criticism of the Yukon Hospital Corporation, which earlier this year voted itself a hefty pay raise that turned out to be in violation of a cabinet order.
“I don’t think that’s appropriate,” said Cardiff.
He didn’t fault board members, who have been “exposed to public criticism and ridicule.” The fault, said Cardiff, lies in weak, outdated rules.
In all, there are 99 different government corporations, boards and committees. They’re staffed by nearly 550 people.
Some of these bodies may be redundant, said Cardiff, while others could probably be merged to save money.
The government’s method of hand-picking members needs to be “depoliticized” and made “more open,” said Cardiff. “We need to address the widespread perception that patronage is the deciding factor in appointments,” he said.
Cardiff didn’t name names, but Craig Tuton, the chair of the hospital corporation, is a long-time campaign manager for the Yukon Party.
Fentie, with the backing of his government members, rewrote Cardiff’s motion so that the review would be done by government, not an arms-length commission.
He also rolled back the review’s deadline from fall to the spring. He removed all mention of the specifics the review would look into, and he called for the review to only produce “findings,” not “recommendations.”
Fentie also altered the motion so that the review would look into appointments to bodies created by the Umbrella Final Agreement. Cardiff excluded those organizations, for fear that reviewing appointments to them would be overstepping the government’s jurisdiction.
Cardiff tried to amend the amendment. His compromise kept much of what Fentie wanted, but he insisted on having the review done by an arms-length commission, rather than government.
He won the support of the Liberals and independent Brad Cathers. But the government used its majority to defeat the measure. Then it strong-armed the passage of its own amendment.
Cardiff told his colleagues he was “greatly disappointed.” And angry.
“Yes, it makes me angry because I do believe that there was a spirit of compromise in the legislative assembly and that we were all trying to work together. Unfortunately, we couldn’t arrive at the same point.”
He couldn’t support the government’s motion. Inexplicably, neither could the government, prompting hoots of laughter from the Liberals.
Everyone voted against the motion, except for Cathers.
The next day, Cardiff asked Fentie why he rejected a chance to work together. Fentie offered a grab-bag of reasons.
Cardiff doesn’t understand how boards work, said Fentie. “The debate turned into political theatre,” as well.
Also, Cardiff made the mistake of “alluding to a perception of politicalization” of boards. And Fentie faulted the NDP for sharing the government’s planned amendment with reporters in advance.
Last, the scope of Cardiff’s proposal was “impossible.”
“The premier seems to have a bit of a defeatist attitude on this,” Cardiff replied.
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