Well in today's Free Press and in the Winnipeg Sun there is a story about the Opposition Boycott of the process to appoint a new Chief Electoral Officer (CEO)--links below.
I was also in attendance, and the Committee even appended my written submission to the official records--I have copied it below for your reference.
It is shameful that our politicians are not seizing this valuable opportunity. Do we need a public inquiry regarding the 1999 election fiasco? ABSOLUTELY! Let's get to the bottom of this, and clear the air one way or another.
However should we be obstructing the process, or should we get on with appointing a new CEO, now that the present CEO has given his notice of resignation. I would argue the latter. Further to this, I think we have the perfect opportunity to make some Legislative changes to the Elections Act which would make the process more impartial, and multi-partisan.
Please enjoy my submission below.
Dear Members of the Legislative Committee on Standing Affairs,
Re: Order of the Day - “To consider the process for hiring a new Chief Electoral Officer”
Date, Time, & Location: January 21st, 2010 at 6pm in Room 255 of the Legislative Building
I. INTRODUCTION: Providing some context.
This committee, The Legislative Committee on Standing Affairs (herein referred to as “Standing Committee”), is meeting to begin the process for hiring a new Chief Electoral Officer (herein referred to as “CEO”). As the Standing Committee is likely aware the previous CEO Richard Balasko had a thirty year career with Elections Manitoba, and held the position of CEO for twenty years. Balasko is leaving amidst cries from opposition party leaders for him to resign or elaborate further on the decision not to proceed with prosecutions against any NDP party member regarding the improper recording of union workers as expenses rather than donations-in-kind during the 1999 election. Balasko for his part has claimed that the law keeps him from speaking openly about the investigation.
This controversy hurts all Manitobans! It is neither good for our democracy, nor is it fortunate, that a long-standing CEO's integrity is in question. There are serious allegations that need to be addressed. The NDP party, and those individuals involved could voluntarily waive their rights to privacy and allow Elections Manitoba the right to release the information regarding the investigation. Or a public inquiry could be called. Either way it is vital to a vibrant democracy to clear the air, one way or another. That said, nothing is conclusive at this moment, and it is more productive to look at the selection of a new CEO as an opportunity to review what other jurisdictions have done in order to determine how we can avoid these types of problems from occurring in the future.
II. LEVEL OF CONSENSUS: Making the appointment process multi-partisan!
Under The Elections Act (C.C.S.M. c. E30, s. 22,23) if the CEO position is vacant, or will be vacated within a year, the Standing Committee on Legislative Affairs is to consider candidates and make recommendations to the President of the Executive Council (also known as the Premier), and the Lieutenant Governor is to appoint the CEO. Thus in Manitoba in effect it is the Premier who tells the Lieutenant Governor who to appoint, based upon the the recommendations made by the Standing Committee. In this way we can see that under a majority government the Premier has a considerable amount of sway in the appointment process, and this thereby needlessly politicizes the appointment process.
Under British Columbia's, Election Act (R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 106, s. 4.1) the Lieutenant Governor is to appoint, on recommendation of the Assembly, a CEO who has been unanimously recommended by a Special Committee of the Legislative Assembly. When the Special Committee of the B.C. Legislative Assembly last met in 2002, the Special Committee of the Legislature was largely composed of Liberals but importantly it included Joy McPhail, a B.C. MLA and Provincial Leader of the opposition NDP, thus the perspectives of at least two parties were considered during the selection process. It should be noted that although dominated by Liberals the Special Committee was reflective of the composition of the Assembly at the time which was overwhelmingly Liberal.
Appointment of a CEO in Prince Edward Island, according to the Election Act (R.S.P.E.I.
1988, E-1.1, s. 2), requires a recommendation by the Standing Committee on Legislative Management, and a resolution by the Assembly with more than a 2/3rds approval from the P.E.I Assembly. —thus under this system, with the present NDP majority in Manitoba, some opposition support would still be required to appoint a CEO.
Most provinces do require some form of legislative oversight in the selection process, but the two statues above, stand out as exemplary because they require a high degree of consensus in the appointment process. Therefore in most ordinary circumstances, appointment of a CEO would require approval from multiple political parties. If multiple political parties perspectives are taken into account during the selection process then there will be less of a basis to question the CEOs integrity.
II. LIMITING TERMS: Providing an opportunity for periodic review.
Many provinces also limit the term of a CEO. In most cases CEOs can be be reappointed, but particularly, if as discussed above, a bi-partisan process in used, this can provide a very valuable opportunity to hold the CEOs accountable.
British Columbia (Election Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 106 s. 6), and Saskatchewan (Election Act, R.S.S. 1996, E-6.01, s. 4.4) limit the term of a CEO from the date of appointment until 12 months after the completion of two general elections, and in Alberta (Election Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. E-1 s. 3.3) the appointment is limited to a 12 months period after a single general election, before re-appointment or retirement is required. New Brunswick (Election Act, R.S.N.B. 1973, c. E-3, s. 5.1.1, 5.1.2) in contrast limits the term of a CEO to a fifteen year maximum; CEOs are appointed to term ranging from eight years to ten years, and this can be extended for an additional five years before the CEO must retire.
III. CONCLUSION: Looking Forward
Nothing in life is perfect, and it seems fair to mention the above-mentioned provinces have also had their share of controversy. The political controversy in Alberta, surrounding the removal of Lorne Gibson instantly comes to mind. I do not pretend that these other provinces statutes are perfect, rather I think given that we in Manitoba are now beginning the process of selecting a new CEO, that we should look at the strong points of other provinces legislation to craft our own unique “made-in-Manitoba” process. I have highlighted how other provinces have term limits, and a higher degree of consensus in the appointment process. Being in transition from one CEO to another, presents the perfect opportunity to amend the Elections Act accordingly.
I would note that today I received an e-mail from Mr. Blaikie, in which he indicated that he “...would be happy to arrange to meet ... to hear the input that the Green Party of Manitoba has to offer regarding the hiring process of the Chief Electoral Officer.” I thank the Minister for this invite, and will follow up accordingly, but I do believe that the input of political parties needs to be formalized into the process. One idea, similiar to the BC model, might be that CEO candidates would need to receive unanimous approval from a committee composed of a designate from each registered political party in the province.
In any event, what we need to do is to try to de-politicize the process by which the appointment of a CEO is done. Sitting before us we have the perfect opportunity to do so. I hope that you will take these ideas into consideration. I would also be more than happy to speak to the Standing Committee and answer any questions that they might have. I will be in attendance this evening and I can also be reached via e-mail, but post, or phone (with e-mail typically providing the fastest response).
Respectfully Submitted on January 21, 2010,
James R. Beddome, Leader, Green Party of Manitoba
1-877-742-4292 (leave message); or direct by cell: 204-990-5195
Box 26023, RPO Maryland, Winnipeg, MB, R3G 3R3