Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams is defending his decision to offer his former communications director a job with the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board the day before he retired from politics.
CBC News has obtained a letter Williams said he wrote on Dec. 2 offering Elizabeth Matthews a six-year position as a vice-chairperson with the C-NLOPB, which regulates the offshore oil industry.
“Anytime you leave office you are concerned about where your senior staff are going to go because people in the premier’s office tend to be tainted for a while from a future employment perspective,” Williams told CBC News Monday.
“In my opinion, Elizabeth Matthews – of all the women I have met in politics including my ministers – was the most competent woman I had come across.”
Williams officially resigned on Dec. 3.
Letter raises questions
The surfacing of his Dec. 2 letter appears to question what Premier Kathy Dunderdale said about this issue last spring.
“I signed the order in council nominating Ms. Matthews to the C-NLOPB as vice-chair, so that came from me under my signature,” said Dunderdale on March 16.
It also raises questions about what Natural Resources Minister Shawn Skinner said at the time.
“She [Matthews] was appointed to the board the date I wrote that letter,” Skinner said in mid-March. “After I wrote the letter, I mean I certainly communicated to my staff and asked what the process was I needed to follow as minister to be able to appoint somebody to the board. I signed the letter. I sent it off."
On March 14, Matthews withdrew herself from the running for the board appointment that would have had to be approved by both the federal and the provincial governments.
Opposition politicians had labelled the nomination as outrageous patronage. In a statement, Matthews said she withdrew her name for consideration because her nomination had become so politicized.
"To imply that my potential appointment could somehow compromise offshore safety is very disturbing and irresponsible," she wrote in a statement she sent to CBC News at the time of her withdrawal.
"The depth to which the Opposition has taken this debate is a political agenda taken too far. For this reason I am withdrawing my name from the nomination process."