Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitoba appointees violate feds' rules

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OTTAWA -- Two Manitoba men are among dozens of people appointed to plum patronage jobs who have been donating to the Conservative party, despite government rules that forbid it.

A Canadian Press investigation found as many as one of every five chairmen and chairwomen on the Employment Insurance Boards of Referees gave money to political parties, riding associations and election candidates while they served on the tribunal.

All but one of the dozens of donations went to the Conservatives, Election Canada records show.

Those donations run afoul of guidelines for administrative tribunals, such as the EI referees boards, which hear complaints about EI decisions on issues such as denied benefits and fraud.

A document titled Information Handbook for Employment Insurance Boards of Referees says chairmen and chairwomen should avoid all political activities.

"In light of the nature of their duties, governor-in-council appointees of quasi-judicial bodies, such as chairpersons to Boards of Referees, are subject to a much more stringent standard and should generally avoid all political activities," says the guide, dated June 2012.

Political activities include giving money to a political party, joining a party, attending partisan events or fundraising. Raymond Rivet, chief spokesman for the Privy Council Office, confirmed in an email the guidelines stipulate appointees are not supposed to engage in any political activities.

Elections Canada records show a number of chairmen and chairwomen made political donations -- altogether worth as much as $37,000 -- while serving on the EI referees boards.

The government appointed John Buddy Wiens of Morden as a chairman of the EI referees board for the Winnipeg district in April 2008. Elections Canada records show Wiens made three donations -- totalling $1,500 -- to the Portage-Lisgar Conservative riding association in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

In a telephone interview, Wiens confirmed he made the donations, but said no one told him it was against the rules. He said he did not recall reading the section of the EI referees boards' handbook about political activities.

"No, I'm sorry," Wiens said. "You got me. I'm totally by surprise."

Rodney Balkwill of Brandon was named a chairman of an EI referees board in February 2009. Elections Canada records show he made a single donation of $250 to the 2011 election campaign of Conservative MP Merv Tweed.

Balkwill said he has supported different political parties at different points in his life, and no one asked him to donate to Tweed's campaign.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 22, 2013 A6

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