Opposition blasts ‘troubling’ hiring of defeated Alberta Tory Evan Berger

By James Wood, Calgary Herald August 18, 2012

Opposition parties stepped up their attacks on the appointment of a defeated Tory cabinet minister to a senior civil service post while members of the Progressive Conservative government remained silent on the issue Friday.

The Wildrose Party said the hiring of former agriculture minister Evan Berger as senior policy adviser to the deputy minister of agriculture raised serious questions about the impartiality of the office of the ethics commissioner.

Berger’s appointment had to be scrutinized by ethics commissioner Neil Wilkinson because there is a one-year restriction on former cabinet ministers receiving a contract or benefit from a department with which they had “significant official dealings” during their final year in cabinet, according to conflict of interest legislation.

Wilkinson granted an exemption for Berger’s hiring, which is allowed under the act.

“It’s so troubling the ethics commissioner waived a blatant conflict. That’s why that rule is there, to stop that exact thing from happening,” said Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson.

“You can’t have a politician get kicked out of office and then be hired back by his department a couple months later. It’s just beyond belief, frankly.”

The Wildrose, Liberals and NDP all called Friday for an explanation of the ethics commissioner’s decision to grant an exemption.

Wilkinson, a former chairman of the Capital Health Region board, was not available for comment.

Glen Resler, chief administrative officer in the commissioner’s office, said the appointment was approved under a clause in the legislation that allows an exemption if it is demonstrated the activity “will not create a conflict between a private interest of the former minister and the public interest.”

“In this instance there is that direct employment relationship with the department, he is working directly with agriculture, a lot of the subject matter is the thing he was working on before … he definitely has the qualifications as the candidate,” he said.

The employment contract was also scrutinized and conditions were set by the ethics commissioner.

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