The federal government has made a number of high profile appointments to government positions, most recently Bob Rae and Salma Lakhani. Rae has been chosen as the new Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations and Lakhani as the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta.
The selection of both positions eventually lands on the prime minister’s desk. These roles are intended to be non-partisan. However it is important to address that both candidates have visible connections to the Liberal party.
Rae is widely known for his affiliation with the Liberals. He has close ties to Michael Ignatieff and volunteered for Pierre Trudeau’s leadership campaign in 1968. From 2008 to 2013, Rae was a Liberal MP and the interim leader of the party before Justin Trudeau succeeded him.
We should certainly celebrate that Lakhani will be the first Muslim woman in this role. Politicians must continue to hear the call for diversity in these political positions. Despite this, it is important to underline that she has donated over $17,000 to the Liberal Party in the last five years. In 2018, she attended two donor appreciation events on February 1 and October 11, as well as a fundraiser on September 5. The special guest for the February and September gatherings was Justin Trudeau.
During this same time last year, the UCP government swiftly removed representatives from a number of agencies, boards, and commissions to be replaced by individuals who would toe the party line. Among those were post-secondary boards that speak for Alberta’s colleges and universities. The most prominent example is former Conservative MP James Rajotte appointed to the University of Alberta Board of Governors. In addition, Donna Kennedy-Glans, an ex-PC MLA, now sits on the Banff Centre board.
Another high-profile appointment was the addition of Janice McKinnon to the U of A’s Board of Governors. The former Saskatchewan finance minister became chair of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances, which probed the provincial government’s spending. As the author of the McKinnon Report, she will likely push the UCP agenda over her three year term on the university’s board.
These appointments could simply be a way to add further oversight on governments and jurisdictions, however, this can also be viewed as the reigning government following their own interests. Problems could arise when these positions advocate for policies that align with partisan values, instead of being objective. For example, the UCP appointments to post-secondary boards can push for items such as performance-based funding, increased tuition and other aspects of the conservative agenda. This could continue even after the current political parties in power are out of office. Such designations should be based on the merit of the candidate rather than their political connections. That would also allow for a more diverse list of potential people to choose from.
A tweet from Maclean’s Jason Markusoff about Lakhani highlights that the current Lieutenant Governor, Lois Mitchell, was a political donor to the Tories for a long time. This tweet demonstrates the issue at hand has existed for some time at different levels; its possible reach is hard to comprehend. It likely has an all-consuming systemic presence in Canada.
There should be a clear division between the positions in government deemed partisan and non-partisan. If non-partisan appointments are no longer the case in Canada, and political parties use their time in power to consolidate as many representatives in different seats of power within as many jurisdictions, they should make this known to the voters who support them.
Regardless, all government officials should be bound to pursuing the well-being of all Canadians. Their own voters or their own agenda should come later.