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Liberal donor, ex-nomination candidate named to Via Rail board

By Samantha Wright Allen      

Jonathan Goldbloom, who has donated $20,000 to the Liberal Party of Canada and ran unsuccessfully to be a federal Liberal candidate in Quebec in 2014, has been named among nine directors appointed or reappointed this month to Via Rail's board.

The NDP ethics critic is calling the government's appointment of Jonathan Goldbloom, pictured, 'blatantly partisan,' while a spokesperson for the prime minister's department said he was appointed following an 'open, transparent, and merit-based selection [process].' Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Goldbloom's Twitter
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A new government appointee to the Via Rail board has donated about $20,000 to the Liberal Party of Canada and its affiliates, including to his own campaign when he unsuccessfully ran for the federal Liberal nomination for a Quebec riding in 2014.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau (Notre Dame de Grâce-Westmount, Que.) announced on June 27 the appointment of Jonathan Goldbloom of Westmount, Que. to a four-year term as a board director in a move the NDP ethics critic is calling “blatantly partisan.” Mr. Goldbloom campaigned for the Mount Royal Liberal candidacy unsuccessfully in 2014 and donated $20,046 between 2006 and March 2017 to either the Liberal Party of Canada, his own campaign, or a Quebec Liberal riding association, Elections Canada figures indicate.

A spokesperson for the department that supports the prime minister and cabinet said by email the government’s approach “supports open, transparent, and merit-based selection processes” to identify diverse and qualified candidates that reflect and represent Canada.

“Mr. Goldbloom was appointed following such a process,” said Paul Duchesne, a spokesperson for the Privy Council Office, which helps handle the selection process for federal cabinet-appointed positions. The Prime Minister’s Office deferred questions to the PCO.

Duchesne added by email the appointees are considered public office holders and are subject to the Conflict of Interest Act and must comply with ethical and political activities guidelines.

But NDP MP Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C.). said the choice, and the appointment process, is anything but transparent.

“This is becoming a pathology for this government. The more they talk about open merit-based appointments, the more Liberals get appointed. There’s no other way to describe this,” said Mr. Cullen, his party’s ethics critic.

“Anyone saying [Mr. Goldbloom’s] Liberal affiliations and donations meant nothing in this is living on another planet. Yet it’s not about him, it’s about [Justin] Trudeau and not having a credible appointment process. And so then everything is suspicious, particularly when it’s so blatantly partisan.”

In February last year Mr. Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) overhauled the appointments system, making hundreds of part-time positions subject to a formal selection process open to all Canadians.

The Via Rail appointment comes in the wake of controversy around a former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister’s proposed appointment as official languages commissioner. The fallout ultimately forced Madeleine Meilleur to withdraw her candidacy. And as iPolitics reported in April, the Liberals named Jennifer Stebbing, a failed Liberal candidate, as a director of the Hamilton Port Authority.

Reached by email, Mr. Goldbloom declined to comment and suggested questions about his appointment be directed to Via Rail Canada Inc. A Via spokesperson said by email his appointment is the responsibility of the federal government, but added that the new board maintains a “high-calibre, regionally diverse, and gender-balanced composition. We are confident that the appointment of these highly qualified people will contribute to the sustainable development of Via Rail, and its strong governance.”

Marc Roy, the transport minister’s communications director, sent a statement in response to The Hill Times‘ questions reiterating some of the language used by the PCO.

“These appointees bring a wide array of technical knowledge and senior executive and corporate governance expertise to the transportation portfolio,” he said by email.

A 30-year public relations and communications veteran, Mr. Goldbloom is president of JGA Strategic Relations, which offers strategic communications, crisis management, media relations, and brand development services. Among his experience, his company biography states he was once a senior adviser at Canada Post, a Crown corporation.

He campaigned for his party’s nomination in a longtime Liberal riding unsuccessfully in 2014 to replace outgoing Liberal MP Irwin Cotler in Mount Royal. He lost the nomination battle to Anthony Housefather, the former mayor of Côte Saint-Luc, a community in the riding. Mr. Housefather went on to win the electoral district for the Liberals in 2015.

Mr. Goldbloom’s family has deep ties to the provincial and federal Liberals. In 2006 Mr. Goldbloom ran former MP Bob Rae’s run for Liberal leadership. His father Victor, who died in 2016, was a former Quebec provincial cabinet minister. He served in provincial politics for 13 years and in 1991 was appointed by then-prime minister Brian Mulroney as Canada’s commissioner of official languages, a term he held eight years. Jonathan Goldbloom’s brother Michael is principal of Bishop’s University and used to be the publisher of The Montreal Gazette and The Toronto Star.

Tuesday’s roster of nine Via Rail appointments includes other members who appear to have donated smaller amounts to political parties, according to Elections Canada records. Calgary’s Stanley Ross Goldsworthy donated $4,000 to the Conservative Party of Canada between 2011 and 2015, and Toronto-based Jane Mowat donated $1,000 to a Conservative candidate in 2014. Daniel Gallivan of Halifax donated $250 to a Liberal candidate in 2005. None were recorded as having donated to the NDP.

Via Rail, which is a Crown corporation, pays its directors an annual retainer of $6,000 plus a $450 daily fee for meeting attendance, travel time, or events where they act as representatives. In 2016 it paid its board members $177,194 in cumulative fees.

Mr. Cullen said “powerful and other lucrative appointments” are not about the direct money. He called on the government to suspend such selections until a “credible” process is in place.

“It’s the ability to influence decisions and leverage that into other opportunities—personal and financial,” said Mr. Cullen. “The ability to say ‘I sit on the board of Via’ or ‘I sit on the board of CBC’ is for some people certainly a lucrative thing—not in the remuneration but in what it leads to next.”

swallen@hilltimes.com

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