BTC: History repeating

Liberal deputy Michael Ignatieff stood up yesterday and wondered aloud whether the Prime Minister still possessed even a bit of confidence in his Foreign Affairs Minister. Mr. Harper declined to respond.

If the opposition wants to give it another try today, they might ask for Bob Mills’ opinion. Why? Well according to the report pasted below (unearthed while looking for something else entirely by our esteemed librarian George), Mr. Mills, the honourable member for Red Deer, was once quite dismayed at the foreign posting of another Bernier—a former Conservative named Gilles who happened to have a son named Maxime, who just so happened to follow him into politics.

For bonus points, note the name of the Globe reporter on this story. One wonders what became of him.

New ambassador to Haiti dismisses critics as powerless Reform Party demands that cycle of ‘blatant patronage’ be broken

By Scott Feschuk

15 July 1997

The Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — Canada’s new ambassador to Haiti, who worked as a radio announcer and hotel manager before being elected to the House of Commons in 1984, yesterday dismissed the protests of opposition politicians who contend he is not qualified for the sensitive diplomatic position.

Gilles Bernier, who represented the riding of Beauce in Quebec for 13 years, said he was “maybe not the most, but among the most” qualified people in Canada for the appointment, which was announced on Friday.

As for the ruckus being raised by the Reform Party and others, he said his critics are wasting their breath.

“The things they say — that’s their problem, not mine,” said Mr. Bernier, who resigned as an independent MP this spring and effectively endorsed the Liberal candidate, who captured the riding in the June election. “They don’t have a say about what happens” with regard to postings.

Asked to list his qualifications for being ambassador to Haiti, Mr. Bernier replied: “Ask that question to (Prime Minister Jean) Chretien. They made their choice and they selected me.”

An official in the Prime Minister’s Office cited Mr. Bernier’s 13 years of public service as an MP and said he has “the skills to execute the duties of his new position.” The official would not elaborate.

The Reform Party said yesterday that the Liberal government’s decision to hand a plum diplomatic posting to Mr. Bernier — and another to Mary Clancy, a Liberal MP who lost her seat in June and was named Friday as consul-general in Boston — should prompt Canadians to demand changes to the way such jobs are filled.

Bob Mills, Reform’s foreign-affairs critic, said Canada risks embarrassing itself on the world stage by assigning important diplomatic roles based on political ties rather than merit.

“Most Canadians would agree we need to break this cycle of blatant patronage appointments,” Mr. Mills said from his riding office in Red Deer. “I mean, these people represent us out in the world. We should be putting our best foot forward, not rewarding loyal soldiers.”

Prior to winning a seat in the Commons in 1988, Ms. Clancy, 49, ran a private law practice for a decade. She was also a broadcaster and a university lecturer.

Mr. Bernier, 63, was a radio announcer and owned and managed the Hotel L’Igloo in St-Georges de Beauce, Que., before heading to Parliament.

Given the political volatility of the island, the Haiti posting has traditionally gone to a career diplomat. Boston, however, has a long patronage tradition. In June, 1993, just hours before he left office, former prime minister Brian Mulroney appointed Donald Cameron, the former Conservative premier of Nova Scotia, to the post.

In their new jobs, Ms. Clancy and Mr. Bernier will be paid between $88,000 and $103,600 a year. Both will now also qualify for parliamentary pensions.

Ms. Clancy did not return phone calls yesterday.

In all, the Liberal government announced 28 foreign postings on Friday. Most of the jobs went to career diplomats, but Mr. Mills said it is not enough to reduce the use of patronage — it must be eliminated. “A few bad postings can overshadow the work of a lot of good people around the world,” he said.

Mr. Mills yesterday wrote a letter to the clerk of the Commons foreign affairs committee demanding that Ms. Clancy and Mr. Bernier appear before committee members to explain their credentials.

The Reform critic said he holds no hope of scuttling these appointments but hopes to expose the way in which Ottawa continues to dole out patronage and to press for changes.

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