Defeated Tory cabinet minister Berger gets plum civil service job

By James Wood, Calgary Herald August 17, 2012 5:27 AM

A defeated Tory cabinet minister is going back on the Alberta government payroll in an appointment the Wildrose Opposition says raises big concerns over Progressive Conservative cronyism and the politicization of the civil service.Evan Berger, who was agriculture minister before losing his Livingstone-Macleod riding in the spring provincial election, was offered a contract Thursday as senior policy adviser to deputy minister of agriculture John Knapp.

Knapp said he was solely responsible for hiring Berger to the civil service post based out of Lethbridge — which pays in a range between $120,158 and $157,910, plus pension and benefits — and there was no involvement by any elected members of the Progressive Conservative government.

There was no posting or open competition for the job because Berger had the “exact skill set” needed, he said.

“Where it’s clear given the criteria you’re looking for — in other words the deep policy knowledge, the experience, the ability to integrate issues in a way that clearly Mr. Berger has demonstrated in the past — holding a competition wastes public dollars, wastes time and effort, and is highly inefficient,” said Knapp, who served as Berger’s top public service official when he was in cabinet.

Berger — who was first elected in 2008 and was appointed to cabinet by Premier Alison Redford last October — said he doubted there would be much public concern over his appointment because of his qualifications. He said he will be dealing with many of the agricultural programs he helped initiate in government. Berger said he will retain his PC membership and likely remain politically active.

“I would think I would probably still be around different things,” said Berger, who added he may run again for his old seat in the next election.

“Four years is a long ways out. I’ve said to people if the support is there and people are looking, I’m willing.”

Berger lost to Pat Stier in the Wildrose Party’s near sweep of rural southern Alberta.

According to an estimate by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Scott Hennig, Berger would have been eligible for around $147,000 under the transition allowance available for defeated and retiring MLAs.

Berger said he has not touched the allowance, but it remains available to him in the future.

Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw scoffed at the idea there was no political role in Berger’s hiring.

“This completely demonstrates Premier Redford’s inability to change the PC party at all. It’s the same-old, same-old culture of entitlement. Here we have an individual that lost an election and because he’s a friend of the PCs he’s getting a lucrative contract in the six figures,” he said. “It seems like another PC at the taxpayer trough.”

Tory Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson was not made available to comment. His press secretary, Cathy Housdorff, said Olson did not have a role in the hiring, but had no problem with Berger’s appointment.

The appointment needed the approval of the province’s ethics commissioner.

Former ministers face a one-year period where they are forbidden to “solicit or accept a contract or benefit from a department of the public service or a provincial agency with which the former minister had significant official dealings” during their final year in cabinet, according to conflict of interest legislation.

The ethics commissioner can, however, waive that cooling-off period, which Knapp said had been done.

“I’m absolutely confident both the hire was appropriate and the process behind the hire was fair, transparent, above board and clearly had the green light from the ethics commissioner,” said Knapp.

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Original source article: Defeated Tory cabinet minister Berger gets plum civil service job