This week premier Paul Davis appointed John Ottenheimer, his former leadership rival, as the CEO of Newfoundland and Labrador Housing. Mr. Ottenheimer’s predecessor, was a former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. I have been friends with several politicians and relatives of politicians, and I often hear such people lament how the general public often looks at politicians as solely interested in lining their pockets and those of their cronies. I understand that frustration. Most politicians across all parties work very hard and are never off duty, as they are always being approached by constituents with various issues. But if politicians want to change their public perception, the first thing they should do is put an end to political appointments.
The thought of a Premier appointing a fellow member of his party to a six figure salary job just reinforces every negative stereotype of politicians in the minds of the average voter. It doesn’t matter that the person may be highly qualified for the job; the fact that is that everyone believes that the qualifications are secondary to that person’s service to the governing party.
The ironic thing about John Ottenheimer is that he will likely make make a great CEO of Newfoundland and Labrador Housing. He is well educated, served in several cabinet positions in government, and is unusually non-partisan for such a prominent politician. During his campaign for the PC leadership, he was refreshingly candid about some of the Party’s recent shortcomings. Yet his appointment will nevertheless perpetuate the public perception of politicians looking after their own.
Liberal leader Dwight Ball has criticized the appointment and said that he would create an independent commission that would be in charge of appointing the heads of crown corporations and government controlled boards. Call me a cynic, but I will believe that when I see it. Having made the promise, he may feel compelled to create this commission, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the commission will be made up of 6 former Liberal fundraisers or cabinet ministers who will be paid a six figure salary.
Ending political appointments may not have any immediate impact on the finances or the performance of government, but they would reduce the public’s cynicism towards it. When cynicism towards government is allowed to grow over time, it eventually leads to the lowering of expectations, and inevitably, poorer performance on the part of our political leaders. I would be delighted if Mr. Ball were to surprise me and keep his promise should he become Premier Ball.