10/05/2011 05:54 EDT | Updated 12/05/2011 05:12 EST

Tories Refining Patronage, Opposition Says


Conservative government patronage is being taken to new levels since Prime Minister Stephen Harper won re-election with a majority, opposition critics say.

Immediately after the 2011 election, Harper appointed three defeated Conservative candidates to the Senate, raising opposition ire. Now the government is being accused of helping other candidates get a jump-start on the next campaign.

One of them, Cecil Clarke, ran for the Conservatives in Nova Scotia's Sydney-Victoria riding, losing to Liberal Mark Eyking by fewer than 1,000 votes. Now he's a federally paid consultant, travelling the province meeting with businesses and individuals. He'll get $135,000 a year for three years.

"There's a whole host of issues that have to be dealt with …," Clarke told CBC News. "I would say, you know, that I've had a very positive relationship with the government of Canada."

Clarke's task of listening to people and letting them know what the federal government has to offer sounds a lot to Eyking what an MP should be doing.

"We hear about puppet governments," said Eyking. "Now we're going to have a puppet MP."

Eyking said the Conservatives are trying to overturn the system using taxpayer dollars.

Bernard Valcourt, minister of state for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, said he could not "comment on staffing decisions made by a local economic development organization."

"The Cape Breton County Economic Development Authority is responsible for its own hiring," he said.

Another in Montreal

"It's really a shot at democracy, when you look at it. You have MPs that were elected — they are trying sideline them — and they are trying to give profile to their defeated candidates."

Nor is Clarke alone. In Montreal, another high-profile Conservative Candidate, Saulie Zajdel, has also landed a new job advising the federal government. Zajdel lost in Mount Royal to Liberal Irwin Cotler.

He couldn't be reached Wednesday, but in a recent newspaper interview Zajdel described his new duties as speaking to various Montreal communities and informing them about government programs available to them.

Patronage is far from new in Canada. Appointments to the bench, the Senate — or tribunals are an age-old way of rewarding party workers and unelected supporters.

New Democrat MP Robert Chisholm of Nova Scotia, however, says these appointments are different, because they boost the chances of potential future candidates.

"The Tories have really come to refine this, I think, in a new way …," he said.