Patronage is all too often a license abused. The
rites of political leadership empower politicians to make appointments outside a
screening process reserved for the middle and lower ranks of the public
service. The practice, while necessary, does not always secure the best and
brightest; at times the nod is given to a person on the basis of demonstrated
loyalty to the Party in power, or just because they are a friend. That practice
is called cronyism.  

Politicians find solace — not that any is needed —
in the dictum that patronage, left to bureaucrats, will be afforded the very
same standard to which politicians adhere. The argument goes: why should
politicians defer such opportunity to bureaucrats when the responsibility and
the opportunity is theirs. The argument fails, however, when a generally decent
system of meritorious selection is corrupted because the appointees are not up
the job or are installed in inappropriate positions.

All appointments, whether Judges, Board Members or
CEOs, deserve a dignified commendation when they are sagely prescribed. Appointments
to the senior level of the public service, however, even after screening for professional
competence, require additional discretion, if only because they may become
anomalous with the (typically) meritorious chain of a large bureaucracy. Otherwise,
such interference may impact the behaviour of a large part of that chain. 

The Carla Foote case dropped off the media’s radar
following the non-announcement on rate mitigation and Premier Ball’s long
overdue resignation. But it ought not to have disappeared from the public’s
mind. It is an important policy issue simply because of the potential
dysfunction such appointments pose for professional public administration.

Carla Foote – Chris Mitchelmore (Photo Credit: CBC)

At the outset, Carla Foote — or any other public
servant — deserves better than to have earned only the undignified representation
given by Premier Ball and Chris Mitchelmore. Watching Ball hide behind a weak
Minister who, at first, was kept on lock-down and, later, found slinking into
the House of Assembly to avoid reporters’ questions, must have been as shocking
an experience for her as it was for the public.

Another in this ignominious class is Siobhan Coady,
who wilted upon first news of Gordon McIntosh’s expensive sinecure. Ball’s news
release read: the Nalcor vice-president and the chief of staff, Greg Mercer, “mutually
agreed” to the selection. There was no reference to the Minister responsible. The
story having broken, Siobhan Coady put on her running shoes: “Let me be crystal
clear: at no point did I have any involvement in Aberdeen International’s
contract, or in any discussions around the contract,” she told the CBC. The
public is treated to an admission of her irrelevance rather than a defense of McIntosh’s
credentials or a justification as to why she is still the Minister.

The tawdry behavior of the three may,
nevertheless, be instructive to others that, if a particular patronage
appointment can
t be
defended, they just shouldn’t make it.  That
said, the larger issue is this: A Premier respectful of the traditions and
hiring practices of the Public Service would not have interfered with The
Rooms’ administration in the first place. Secondly, the Premier ought never to
have imposed Foote, a political staffer, on the Executive Council Office or to
have repeated the practice, as he did just a couple of weeks ago.

Even if we accept that patronage will always be
with us, no one should dismiss the corrosive effect on public servants who have
earned their positions on a meritorious basis.

An interview with Premier Ball by the CBC’s
Anthony Germain, over the Foote affair, is especially instructive because in it
Ball omitted any distinction between the service of bureaucrats and that of political
appointees. Personal experience affords me quite a different view. While both jobs
constitute a necessary public service, each is different. One is transitory and
partisan, the other permanent and politically neutral. Those are important
distinctions. Interfere with the Westminster model — as the impartial
bureaucracy is known — and expect a far more embittered, politically motivated,
underproductive and dysfunctional public service.

Carla Foote may well be a model of professionalism,
but absent a lengthy recess from partisan politics, her partisan credentials
disqualify her from a senior role in the public service. She, and her political
benefactors, should know that that is part of the price of having accepted a
role in the political arm of government. Foote should be very proud of having
had the opportunity to serve, but her next career move should have been most
anywhere else. The Premier had the authority to appoint her but, in deference
to the essential neutrality of the bureaucracy, it is a right to be exercised only
in the rarest of circumstances. Since the Williams era, far too many at the
senior Departmental level have been installed in consequence of their partisan

While the public may have been offended because
the McIntosh sinecure is dubiously expensive and possessed of
conflict-of-interest, the Foote nomination seems to have caused a stir because a
cherished institution — The Rooms — was imposed upon for a less than noble
purpose. As justified as the outrage may have been, I suggest that the public ought
not to see their interests quite so narrowly.

Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.


Bill left public life shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Accord and became a member of the Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2003. During his time on the court he was involved in a number of successful appeals which overturned wrongful convictions, for which he was recognized by Innocence Canada. Bill had a special place in his heart for the underdog.

Churchill Falls Explainer (Coles Notes version)

If CFLCo is required to maximize its profit, then CFLCo should sell its electricity to the highest bidder(s) on the most advantageous terms available.


This is the most important set of negotiations we have engaged in since the Atlantic Accord and Hibernia. Despite being a small jurisdiction we proved to be smart and nimble enough to negotiate good deals on both. They have stood the test of time and have resulted in billions of dollars in royalties and created an industry which represents over a quarter of our economy. Will we prove to be smart and nimble enough to do the same with the Upper Churchill?


  1. Once you admit that patronage is justified in some instances it becomes increasingly corrosive to professional public administration.

    Appointments need to be made by arms length bodies removed from political influence.

    It is staggering when the outcome of wholesale transfer of the cable guys to Nalcor and MF is now so apparent. Accept the inevitable corrosive influence of patronage and a MF disaster becomes inevitable when a strongman bully gets hold of the levers of power.

    How the hell can you refuse to accept the need to eliminate patronage or do you accept digging an ever deepening hole??

    • I agree Bruno. I see it at lower levels too — nice, but useless people are appointed via 13 week assignments (renewable) all over the civil service. These range from the lower levels all the way up through management.

      This turns departments into clubs. Important positions are filled with the wrong people (their merit is who they know) rather than the best people for the job. They also support and promote each other, nor do they rock the boat. After all, they are all in the same boat, floating at the pleasure of the minister.

      All patronage needs to stop. I can see ministers wanting to pick out their own personal support staff, but from Deputy Minister on down, it should be based on merit.

      I am convinced that the only way to clean this up is a complete purge of the civil service (ass management up to the Deputy Minister), followed by 3rd party recruiting. Government HR is corrupt as is the so called "Independent" appointments commission.

      There is no accountability.

  2. Check Ed Hollett's article on the upcoming Budget Concerns. Concerned Citizens look forward not preoccupied with past and continuing poor management practice. It is what it is, and somewhere down the line, there will be opportunities to pull up our socks, and get better people involved with our bureaucracy.

  3. The lasting effects of cronyism and nepotism on the public servants themselves cannot be ignored. We have witnessed a blatant disregard for the human beings working in our public service. It’s difficult to find any public servants today that are not completely alienated from their jobs. Decades of mismanagement and fraudulent behaviour has created a culture inside the government that has to do with looking out for oneself and not the greater good of our province. Look no further than the size of government and the overall cost. We are doomed to fail and someone is going to pay for it. Who will that be?

  4. Listened to the first 10 minutes on NTV News of Andrew Fury's announcement that he wanted to be premier.

    Seems that he believes that "negativity" is our big problem.

    Sound familiar?

    Not sure if he has been influenced most by Danny Williams or Donald Trump.

    Bring on the election.

  5. Hey VOCM!

    Dummy up!!

    These are not "allegations" regarding the Crown Prince of Bullshit Gerry Byrne.

    The Crown Prince of Bullshit Gerry Byrne was in fact GUILTY of the offense, and fined $86 for it.

    On a related note, the de facto government mouthpiece VOCM's feebly half-assed attempt to sterilize the negative publicity surrounding a government minister by resorting to such a misleadingly anodyne headline is as obvious as it is pathetic, and also constitutes an insult to the intelligence of all those NLers who might possess an IQ.


    • Any word, as to the ongoing negotiations with QC, towards joint management of the Grand River resources? Hopefully, Seamus, Bertrand, Furey, get off on a good footing. Preliminary Budget considerations, involving the New World Economy, Lower $, Oil values etc. are brought to Public consciousness soon. What is Locke's involvement, if any?

      I would hope that Furey gives David Vardy a call also. New Beginnings?

  6. I wonder what LeBlank had to say about the "recommendations related to the inquiries Terms of Reference? He was narrowly constrained and I hope he tells it like it was.

    What does he was "advised that the report must be reviewed for legal sensitivities related to legal interests" mean? The guilty will be scrubbed from public view?

  7. Conservative Annette, has recommendations for ONT. that are sound for NL and all other provinces. She is also the Chancellor of Cape Breton University and has a clear vision of the opportunities ahead with storage as the key to breaking the limitation of renewables. They no longer have to be used when produced.

    "As the disruption in the power sector mounts, business and political leaders in this province have a choice. We can own the change and reap the rewards, or we will have it foisted upon us and pay the costs."


  8. Tommmy just used the credit card to get 4 billion plus in the account to keep the lights on and using the excuse that the opposition might overturn the Gov before they can pass a budget (knowing full well they have no stomach for that). Tommy knows the Feds have no intention to help in any way with the 'Scrat since COVID19 and the Natives got them in the pickle up to their ears. What a state we're in.