Calgary Sun - Editorial- Time to clean up the Act

 

The rules governing the Alberta legislature’s ethics commission need an overhaul.

That’s the conclusion many Albertans have already reached with the ethics commissioner’s recent greenlighting of the hiring of former agriculture minister Evan Berger by the very department he ran.

Berger was defeated in the election by Wildrose MLA Pat Stier, then hired as an advisor to the deputy minister of agriculture for $120,000 a year.

The position didn’t previously exist and no competition was held to fill it.

This despite conflict of interest guidelines that state a former minister shall not for a period of 12 months “solicit or accept” a contract or benefit from a department with which the minister had significant official dealings during his last year of service.

But after a review of the circumstances, Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson gave Berger an exemption, provided he doesn’t collect his $147,000 MLA severance pay for at least a year, and does not engage directly in political activity.

“The premier should be intervening in this because anyone with an ethical gene in their body knows this doesn’t pass the smell test,” says Wildrose justice critic Shayne Saskiw.

He says the commissioner should not have issued an exemption to rules “in place to protect Albertans from precisely these types of buddy-buddy manoeuvres.”

Wilkinson didn’t help his own office’s credibility with his curious description of Berger’s new role as being “within the family, the government family.”

Wilkinson now admits his “family” reference sounds “too cozy” and he really meant “government of Alberta public service.”

Good, because that turn of phrase conjured up some uncomfortable images.

Especially since Wilkinson himself was once an active, longtime PC supporter before he took on the “totally independent” role of ethics commissioner reporting directly to the legislature.

The PC party has long been dogged by accusations it’s an old boy’s club that rewards its friends and punishes its enemies.

Some high-profile appointments over the years haven’t dispelled that notion.

Berger’s special exemption leaves a bad taste and points to an urgent need to toughen up the Conflict of Interest Act.

If Premier Alison Redford is serious about her pledge for greater accountability, the government needs to overhaul the rules.

 

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http://www.calgarysun.com/2012/09/20/editorial-time-to-clean-up-the-act