Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ex-MLA retains envoy position, critics alarmed

But military calls office 'efficient'

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A former NDP MLA has quietly retained her duties as the province's special envoy for military affairs -- a job that's seen her old constituency office turned into a permanent office with an annual budget of $190,000.

Bonnie Korzeniowski was appointed military envoy in February 2008 when she was MLA for St. James and has kept the post despite not seeking re-election in the Oct. 4 vote.

The NDP government made no formal announcement Korzeniowski would keep the job, although Premier Greg Selinger reintroduced Korzeniowski as the provincial envoy at an event for the military last November.

Dwight MacAulay, chief of protocol for the province, said Korzeniowski's role falls under his office and was created as a way to continue the relationship with the Armed Forces and the reserves Korzeniowski helped create.

"We had the dynamic of an election coming up and the thinking was we wanted to build upon and certainly retain the relationship we had with the military," MacAulay said. "This position was created so that she would continue in this capacity. It just made sense that we wanted to continue this relationship."

Driving that decision was the military's involvement in fighting last year's flood, MacAulay said.

But critics say there's no reason why a sitting NDP MLA could not have inherited Korzeniowski's duties when she stepped out of political life.

In fact, the Canadian Forces Liaison Council, an arm of the Armed Forces to support the participation in the reserves, said in its recent annual report it encourages the appointment of a minister or an elected member to represent military interests in each province.

It says military envoys have also been named in Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador.

"It seems like the military is being used for a job for an ex-politician," Canadian Taxpayers Federation regional director Colin Craig said.

Craig also said for a government pleading poverty -- the province is battling a $1.1-billion deficit -- it makes no sense to create a separate office when a sitting MLA can be appointed military envoy.

Craig said new St. James MLA Deanne Crothers or even Brandon West MLA Drew Caldwell could easily do the job as each of them has a military base in or near their constituency.

"Certainly, there's a backbencher who could do this," he said.

Tory finance critic Heather Stefanson also questions the additional expenditure.

"We think having a military envoy is a good thing, but we want to make sure we're spending money wisely," she said.

Stefanson said she plans to introduce a private member's bill in the next session, which starts Tuesday, asking for a review of spending in all government programs, including Korzeniowski's position.

Morris Conservative MLA Mavis Taillieu said what's odd about Korzeniowski's role is the Selinger government has frozen salaries of MLAs to save money, but is paying an ex-MLA to do the job a sitting MLA could do.

"It's just so hypocritical," Taillieu said. "They just want to keep her on the payroll."

Korzeniowski's former constituency office at 2175 Portage Ave. has been recently renamed Manitoba Envoy for Military Affairs.

Korzeniowski was unavailable to comment.

Brian Koshul of the Fort Garry Horse Centennial Committee said it doesn't matter to him or to other military organizations with which he's involved whether Korzeniowski is a sitting MLA or not.

"The military affairs envoy is a pipeline into the Manitoba government and I've seen no difference since she decided not to seek re-election," Koshul said.

"She's involved in many things on an ongoing basis. To me and others, the military affairs envoy's job is just as efficient and pertinent now as when she was a sitting member of the legislature."

MacAulay said Korzeniowski's term is for one year under the current arrangement.

"It's a one-year contract and we'll see where we are in a year's time," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2012 A4

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