"Political patronage and bias need to be swept away..."

Elizabeth Thompson
The Montreal Gazette

March 17, 2004


Patronage appointees deciding the fate of refugee claimants will soon be a thing of the past, Immigration Minister Judy Sgro pledged yesterday as she announced changes in the way appointments are made to the Immigration and Refugee Board.
"No longer will it be who you know, but most importantly, it will be what you know," Ms. Sgro said. "Political patronage and bias need to be swept away with this mighty wind of change."
But while Ms. Sgro stressed the need for the government to put an end to patronage, she refused to say how many of the current 219 appointees to the board got their jobs because of political ties and, therefore, would not be able to meet the new criteria.
Ms. Sgro's announcement was part of package being delivered by Prime Minister Paul Martin's government this week in a bid to convince Canadians the government is serious about addressing the perception that patronage is rife in government decision making.
On Monday, Treasury Board President Reg Alcock and Public Works Minister Stephen Owen announced a new merit-based system to select the heads of Crown corporations. The new system would allow MPs a say in appointments.
The government also announced yesterday it was giving parliamentary committees a lengthy shopping list of government appointments, asking which ones they wished to review.
Today, Mr. Martin is to put the crowning touch on the government's package during a speech in Quebec City.
Ms. Sgro said yesterday that Mr. Martin made it clear when he named her to cabinet that reforming the Immigration and Refugee Board appointment process was to be one of her first priorities. Board members earn between $87,200 and $102,600 a year to decide the cases of those claiming refugee status.
Under the new system, candidates for board jobs will have to undergo a five-step screening process, including scrutiny by an independent advisory panel and a selection board. Candidates to head the board will be subject to review by a parliamentary committee.
Existing board members will have to pass the new test when their terms come up for renewal and those who don't meet the new criteria won't be renewed. However, Ms. Sgro said there are no plans to ask existing members to meet the new test before their current terms expire.
The terms of current board members are set to expire at various points between now and 2008.

Candidates will be judged on eight criteria -- communication skills, conceptual thinking, decision making ability, information-seeking skills, judgment/analytical thinking, organizational skills, results orientation and self control.
While candidates will be screened according to merit, the immigration minister will continue to have a say in the final selection, Ms. Sgro said.
Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said the announcement still fails to address one of the biggest problems with the current system -- the absence of a proper appeal process for refugee claimants.