Backroom deals always smell bad

The government announced this week that committee chair Jessica Littlewood stepped away from public body.

By Stu Salkeld

It really bothered me this week when I read a press release from the Wildrose Opposition about the way in which Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government is handling, or mishandling as the case may be, the Special Standing Committee on Ethics and Accountability.

The government announced this week that committee chair Jessica Littlewood stepped away from public body after Wildrose alleged she was participating in back room deals with little or no consideration for the rest of the committee. Littlewood didn’t seem to have a problem with using her authority; she told the Canadian Press she did nothing wrong and her temporary replacement, another NDP person, Heather Sweet, said she didn’t have a problem with back room deals either.

I ran into a problem like this myself many years ago when I was a volunteer on several boards that all happened to intersect at the same time. In a community I used to live in was the “citizen of the year” committee, which accepted community-wide nominations from everyday people for this great honour. A citizen of the year was a local person who did much to aid, promote, protect or serve the community while asking little or nothing in return.

As I was a member of several other prominent boards in that community, I was asked to be a member of the citizen of the year committee. I took it as a compliment; obviously, somebody, somewhere in the town hierarchy trusted my judgment,and I knew the committee would be full of people with similar credentials.

At our first meeting, the group sat down to look at the results of the newspaper awareness campaign. I’d written stories asking people to send in their nominations for citizen of the year. We had a number of envelopes in front of us, and quickly perusing them, it was obvious our decision was going to be tough.

Then, the last member of our committee arrived, late. He sat down and asked what we were looking at, to which we all responded, “The nominations for citizen of the year.” Our latecomer chuckled and said, “We don’t need those. I already know who citizen of the year is going to be.” Coincidentally, it turned out to be one of his buddies.

I, and several other committee members, immediately balked and said the recipient would be chosen from those nominated by the community. I, for one, was not going to have any part in a conspiratorial back room deal. Our latecomer said something to the effect of “Over his dead body,” and said he’s was going to run crying to the mayor etc. to ensure his buddy was named citizen of the year.

To make a long story short, we honest, open and accountable committee members stuck to our guns and picked a citizen of the year from those nominated who was a very worthy recipient. Our latecomer’s attempt to make a back room, old boy’s club deal caked in nepotism failed.

The sickening part of this NDP episode is that public bodies, whether they’re just unimportant citizen of the year committees or “special” boards full of indispensable NDP people, are supposed to have guiding principles to make sure everyone is treated fairly and honestly, with no impartiality and no favoritism.

Even more disturbing is how Albertans are supposed to listen to their premier talk about open and accountable government and at the same time she’s got “special” chair people saying they have no problem with back room, private and exclusive dealings.

Oh yeah, almost forgot. The latecomer? His buddy was named “citizen of the year” after I moved away from the community.

Stu Salkeld is the editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.