A senior executive whose appointment to a now-defunct federal Crown Corporation was under scrutiny because of apparent patronage is now a full-time public servant.
And in his new department, Robert MacLean, who has close Conservative ties and worked for Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation, is protected from further investigation.
Atlantic Liberal MPs tried to block him and another ECBC official, Allan Murphy, who had worked for federal Nova Scotia cabinet minister Peter MacKay, from becoming public servants, arguing their appointments were tainted. The Liberals were not successful.
All ECBC employees, including Mr. MacLean, slipped seamlessly into the public service last week when the Crown Corporation was subsumed by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. Mr. MacLean is now working for Public Works and Government Services Canada, which took some ECBC employees.
Mr. Murphy left ECBC just prior to its dissolution last week, according to an ACOA official.
ECBC had been under fire after the Liberal MPs complained about its hiring practices, accusing CEO John Lynn of appointing four well-connected Conservatives to positions without subjecting them to a competitive hiring process.
The complaints led to a year-long investigation by federal Integrity Commissioner Mario Dion. In his report, released last month, he found that Mr. Lynn's actions were "not only unfair, but also improper, and they do not stand up to the test of public scrutiny."
He said they left the appearance they were "partisan appointments."
The federal Conservatives fired Mr. Lynn, who was appointed in 2008 by then ACOA minister MacKay, a day after the release of the report.
Two of the four ECBC officials, whom Mr. Lynn hired, had worked for Mr. MacKay. The other two had ties to the provincial Progressive Conservatives. Only two of the officials were still with ECBC when the report was released.
Although the Integrity Commissioner questioned the appointments, he does not have the power to revoke their positions. This is in contrast to a similar investigation at ACOA.
Kevin MacAdam, a long-time friend and former MacKay staffer, lost his senior position at ACOA last month after a Federal Court ruling called his hiring process "tainted."
As an employee of ACOA, Mr. MacAdam was a public servant. The Public Service Commission, which safeguards the non-partisan tradition of the public service, investigated his appointment after complaints by Liberals. It revoked the appointment – a decision upheld by the Federal Court.
The Public Service Commission could not investigate the hiring at ECBC because Crown corporations are not under its jurisdiction.
Late last month, however, Cape Breton Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner asked Public Service Commission president Anne-Marie Robinson to take another look as two of the officials were poised to become public servants.
"These tainted political appointments will become legitimized in the public service …," wrote Mr. Cuzner. "I would like to know what actions you can and will take to refuse these appointments and prevent the integrity of the public service from being called into question."
Ms. Robinson wrote back, however, that she has no authority to investigate because the appointments were not initially made under the Public Service Employment Act.
ACOA was created in 1987 by prime minister Brian Mulroney as an autonomous agency, with its own senior minister and a mandate to provide long-term strategy and economic development to the Atlantic region.
But Lowell Murray, a former Progressive Conservative senator and the first cabinet minister responsible for ACOA, says the regional development agency is not working the way in which it was intended.
He said it was not designed to provide funds for a premier's or MP's "favourite project," which might help for the next election. Subsequent governments, he argues, have downgraded the agency. For example, it is now handled by a junior minister.
"It wasn't just regional disparities, it was to look for improvements in earned income and productivity that we were supposed to be about," he says. "I think it kind of lost its way."