The Doug Tyler Affair

The mystique.  They mystery.  A ‘lobbyist’ now working for the government.  Ooooooh.  The Opposition is some angry that Doug Tyler, former McKenna Minister has gone from lobbyist to senior government position.  As if that hasn’t happened before.  New Brunswick is a small province.  Ex Cabinet ministers many times end up with nice government jobs (just ask David Alward’s predecessor).  

Of course I believe that senior government appointments should be vetted for conflict of interest but that’s tough in a small province.  One thing I can say from 20 years of working in and around the system.  There is definitely ‘lobbying’ that goes on but I have never witnessed it rise to the level of corruption.  I am not saying that bribes, payoffs, blackmail, etc. don’t happen but I have never heard about it.

There needs to be systems in place to ensure that government money is spent appropriately (and that includes who gets hired) but I am equally if not more concerned about having accountability systems to ensure that government money is spent effectively.

It’s an outrage with former Minister Norm Betts spends $90 for burger in Boston but there isn’t even a whiff of interest in whether or not the tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars spent on that trip to Boston was an effective use of money.  

You could say the same thing about all departments of government.  There needs to be at least as much accountability related to outcomes (results) as related to the processes (how the money was spent).  It kind of misses the point to be outraged about NB Power bonuses (a 0.02% cost item) and hardly even mention the actual success or failure of NB Power.  That is not the best example because the TJ has done a pretty good job of reporting on the activities of NB Power. I’d double the Deputy Minister salaries in a heartbeat if it resulted in a doubling of the effectiveness of their departments.

21 thoughts on “The Doug Tyler Affair

  1. Keep in mind there are LOTS of ‘policies’ that are ‘routine’ in NB that would be a conflict of interest anywhere else simply because there is more media elsewhere. Far bigger than that issue is how many Irving employee’s end up in high government departments and often even go back to Irving. Charles Leblanc has sometimes made that an issue but nobody has really gotten into it.

    And even right off the top of my head we can add the liberal deal in Mactaquac as well as the new plaza on Fredericton’s watershed, also shady liberal deals that have the support of the party. I’m sure NBT could add many others, including his pet peeve, the cancellation of the inquiry into the Caissie Populaire that has BOTH parties fingerprints all over it. Remember, New Brunswick is a FAR more closed government than most. And that’s without ANY investigation. Being small doesn’t justify conflicts of interest, and people have a VERY misguided sense of what senior bureaucrats actually do. Here the view of the man in the street is very correct, that senior bureaucrats simply don’t DESERVE those salaries. Unlike the private sector their jobs seldom depend on performance, although in the private sector thats often rarely true as well.

    Anybody who has worked in business or government knows damn well that the hard workers out there don’t do it because of the money. There’s a reason the stereotype in movies exists where the secretary is the brains behind the outfit. Charles Leblanc could probably do a better job as head of NB communications, but certainly not the ‘type’ of job that government’s want, which is why the ‘best’ workers within government are often the worst for the public utility (or just the public).

  2. I had thought that the NB Power bonuses were to be tied to a variety of performance benchmarks. The biggest of these was the timeliness and budget performance of the reactor retrofit.

    I think the sensible thing in Doug Tyler’s case is to provide a statutory requirement of a six month cooling off period, followed by the revelation of former clients. I don’t think this would be a revolutionary approach to lobbyist regulation in North America.

    You can obviously argue that the addition of Doug Tyler to the Liberal Government is a positive thing for New Brunswick. I also imagine Mr Tyler had exactly the same connections and direct lines to senior Government officials last week as a lobbyist as he does this week as a DM. That’s not the issue. The issue is whether New Brunswickers should know who was paying for his services before he began officially advising Government.

  3. Good post. Did we expect a Conservative to get the post? These appointments happen everywhere; they are simply more public in NB due to our size.

    The more important question to ask is what direction will policy take now; more shelved reports or meaningful strategic action?

  4. The casual tolerance of unethical political practices under the guise of New Brunswick’s small size is a gross indictment of the degree to which we consider these practices to be acceptable.

    In fact, there are expenditure management systems, accountability frameworks and ethics guidelines that apply equally to all political jurisdictions, regardless of size.

    Only when we decide that we will no longer tolerate unethical practices as a rule, and not simply on an exception basis, will it be possible to speak of a time when these shameful practices could cease.

  5. I am not sure how you get shameful out of this. When berard lord made his old law partner deputy minister – is that shameful? I still think we have to be able to differentiate between old partisans getting plum jobs that they are at least on paper qualified for – as Tyler is.

  6. Of course the Bernard Lord case is ‘shameful’ as well. Again, go look at what a Deputy Minister DOES. There are tons of books in the public administration section of your library written by bureaucrats of all stripes. To say that somebody who was a lobbyist for specific issues or a company has the ‘paper qualifications’ to be a deputy minister is the ‘casual tolerance’ the above poster is talking about. However, this is how many former commonwealth countries operate, the idea is still that the ‘elite’ are ‘more qualified’ based on the fact that they know ‘the rules’ and the jargon. As we saw with the Venezuela deal, knowing rules and jargon doesn’t equip one (necessarily) with brains-in that case doing a retrofit which only has one source of product (which tons of commentators were pointing out during the retrofit).

    If you look around at most countries there isn’t even a POSITION known as ‘deputy minister’. For a ‘second in command’ you’d think at least it would have to be somebody who is ELECTED. But again, that’s Canada’s system. You only need look next door to Maine and notice that FAR more positions are run by ballot, not by who somebody thinks ‘looks good on paper’. I didn’t even follow the above comment, is somebody asserting that you don’t even know who he was a lobbyist FOR?? And now he’s a deputy minister? IF that’s true, that goes FAR beyond simply shameful, that’s downright third worldien.

  7. Sorry, forgot to mention to Vince’s point-just because people aren’t rioting in the streets is no reason to think that its ‘casual acceptance’. The simple reality is that there is simply nothing people can do about it. What’s the alternative? Set off bombs? This is voter turnout is plummeting. NB is a little different because it has virtually no immigration, and an aging population who still vote out of a sense of duty. That’s rapidly changing in the world, you can look at Ontario’s recent election, Alberta’s, even Canada’s. It’s always interesting when CBC reports on stuff like this because then you can get a general sense-and it isn’t pretty. Stuff like this is very similar to what forced Britain to bring in ‘responsible government’, at least a little of it. But it takes quite a bit of work and organization to make radical changes in how governments operate, and we haven’t seen much of that, which means of course such things will continue.

  8. Policies and Priorities is a very partisan position. It’s not like Tyler is being appointed to Deputy Minister of Justice or Health or even BNB. This is the senior civil servant who helps keep the Executive Council on track by thinking big picture rather than reacting to the latest newspaper-inspired crisis. The position is ill-suited to a professionally neutral public servant. It needs to be staffed by someone who can look the premier in the eye and say, “that’s not a good idea” rather than being another “Yes Man or Woman”.

  9. David, I regret that either you cannot see the conflict of interest or alternately that your position may be that there’s nothing to be done. Mikel also seems to be saying that in the absence of measures to address these conflicts we should simply capitulate to unethical comportment. Riot in the streets? The appropriate alternative to setting off bombs in response to these ethical challenges would, at a minimum, involve discussing how these decisions are wrong.

    And when we attempt to shrug off our responsibilities as citizens to speak out against ethical wrongdoing — even if it happens with regularity (or perhaps because it does), it is shameful indeed.

    I don’t recall that a reasoned response to challenges to accountability is “well, what are you going to do?”

  10. It is certainly possible that I have shrugged my shoulders a bit because I focus – maybe more than I should – on outcomes rather than processes.

    Maybe all DM appointments should be vetted in the way a cabinet minister is vetted in the U.S.?

  11. This is laughable. Of course such an appointment will be someone that is a trusted party faithful and of course they will have had prior business or interaction with government. You guys are buying into the hype Alward is trying to fabricate. If he gets in do you expect him to appoint a Liberal?

    Good opposition would be scrutinizing his philosphies and strategy and exploring the priorities he intends to set. Will it be economic development or potholes? Will it be our worst education system or moose fencing? Will it be esculating health care costs or auto insurance rates? Will it be tax policy or internet access? If he gets the priorities right, we can be thankful for this appointment.

  12. I don’t think his party membership is the issue. The issue is that last week special interests were paying him to convince government to change course in a way beneficial to those special interests. Now, Mr Tyler is being paid by government to tell them how best to change course.

    Will consideration be given to those who buttered his bread before? Probably not, but all doubt could be removed with proactive disclosure.

  13. David, your suggestion that DMs (and perhaps other high ranking appointments) should be vetted publicly has real merit. Of course it would slow down the machinery of government, and there would be those who would resist any brake on government operations. But an open review would have the merit of allowing for political discussion, not to remove ALL ambiguity, but to allow for at least the prospect that a conflict of interest would meet with the full glare of the public interest.

    We should not dismiss talented, committed and ethical individuals merely on the grounds of their partisan affiliation. David rightly points out that many, and perhaps in some situations, most candidates for a patronage post may have a partisan history. That in itself should not disqualify an individual from serving in the public interest. However, the public should be aware of that partisan affiliation and there should be a forum to determine whether it constitutes a conflict of interest. This would tend to hold elected officials more accountable than the current “method”.

    Surely when the ends justify the means, the public cannot be well served.

  14. It is interesting to see some of the comments on this article. I wander how many of the negative posters has shown up chastising Stephen Harper for his senate appointments.

    Mr. Alward is firing blanks trying to stir the citizens of this province up but after being part of the government that rehired 5 defeated ministers/mlas when they got defeated he has no reason to call Mr. Tyler’s appointment into question. The sad thing or perhaps the good thing is that Mr. Tyler has more experience then the other five Bernard Lord and David Alward hired.

    I admit that I do know Doug Tyler but I will also say that he is a honest person and will represent Shawn Graham’s government to the highest and with fairness.

    Remember, David Alward was chosen as a party leader by only beating an unknown candidate by fewer then 260 switched votes. The heavy weights, Robichaud, Volpe, and others saw the light and chickened out and left Alward to fend for himself.

    Mr. Alward, having been a minister in a government that did nothing in their last six years in office and filled so many positions with defeated members that the government’s seam were busting, only has to look in the mirror to see what is wrong with the PC party.

    Most likely Mr. Alward’s biggest regret is that he does not have anybody that could come near to Mr. Tyler’s experience, that he can call on.

  15. Tyler will at least be providing input in an official capacity. Hopefully this is a sign of the government finding itself and creating its own identity.

    The negative backlash against people merely because of their politics is part of the reason good people are avoiding the process. We should be examining principles, policies and strategies of such individuals. Instead we worry about politics; he is a long time liberal and of course he has had prior dealings and interactions with governments. As long as they were legal, we should drop the BS and start working to move this province out of last place in so many performance indicators.

  16. People have a really misguided view of political machinery. It’s not like government was up against a wall and ‘needed somebody yesterday’. But as far as partisanship goes, again, the job of political opposition is to oppose. Lots here are questioning the decision, at the very least the way it was made, and the opposition’s job is to give such opposition a voice in the legislature. Alward was never leader of the PC’s before, so the argument can’t be made about how he handled PC decisions. Since both parties have been around for decades, the argument can go back and back and back that because Party X did such and such they have no ‘authority’ to make criticisms. That’s of course ludicrous, Mr. Alward is doing his job, and the criticism would be far more credible if he didn’t say anything, or if he congratulated the liberals on their choice. That, essentially, was New Brunswick in the late eighties and early nineties. I’ll repeat, I was around during those years and that’s when the seeds of real poverty began and there were just as few long term success stories as under Mr. Lord’s government. An opposition actually opposing is necessary in a system that doesn’t give any power to the people.

  17. Mikel just helped explain why so many have become dis-engaged from politics; opposing for the sake of opposing. No debate, no better alternatives, no tweaking or fine tuning to optimize, no consistent strategy or policy. Just simple if government says white, opposition says black.

    This was entertaining when the NDP did it knowing they would not be put to task forming a government. It is disturbing when a legitimate contender does it.

  18. No, what I explained was why ANYBODY is still ‘engaged in politics’. For the vast majority such stories as these are so common that they are not even worth thinking about. But for ‘alternatives’, the opposition is in no position to offer them-if some reporter asked them they probably WOULD have an alternative suggestion, probably just as partisan.

    That’s the benefit of ‘coalition’ governments, then at least there isn’t just black and white. The ‘opposing for the sake of opposing’ is a result of the electoral system-its a symptom not a disease. That, again, is why so many are disconnected from politics. Even here there are lots of comments by people who are at least nominally interested, but in two days this blog will be gone with no effect. THAT is why people get disconnected-because there is no point in being connected.

  19. As a New Brunswicker who has lived away for many years I will offer you this thought. The tacit approval of this kind of collusion does not go unnoticed by people across the country. Does it happen everywhere? Sure. However, when it is seen to happen in New Brunswick it adds to an already insidious perception of NB as a corrupt backwater run by Irving Oil and a bunch of yahoos. Again, I was raised in NB and I know things are more complex than this and that it is comparatively unfair but try telling that to a “liberal” private school snob from Upper Canada. I had always hoped that NB would get it’s sh*t together and move towards a more participatory style democracy. Sadly it seems the wolves still run the hen house and I will have to continue to bear the condescending remarks on my birthplace. Poor me 🙁

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