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Grits name ex-Liberal B.C. president, $30,000-donor to port authority board

The Liberals say former Liberal Party lawyer Craig Munroe is 'eminently qualified' to sit on the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority board and his appointment followed the government's merit-based approach.

Craig Munroe, top left beside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Christina Topp, Liberal Party senior director of fundraising and other Liberal Party insiders in May 2016. Others pictured, clockwise from right, include: Suzanne Cowan (in red), 2015 campaign advertising director; Rob Silver, husband to Mr. Trudeau's chief of staff Katie Telford and a former Liberal pundit; Ontario chapter president Tyler Banham; Sachit Mehra, Winnipeg Liberal board member; beside Liberal spokesman Braeden Caley. Photography courtesy of Facebook

PUBLISHED :Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017 12:00 AM

A former president of the Liberal Party’s B.C. chapter who has donated $30,000 to the party since 2004 was appointed to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority this month.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau (Notre Dame de Grâce-Westmount, Que.) named North Vancouver lawyer Craig Munroe to the 11-member board on Nov. 15 for a three-year term.

His office called Mr. Munroe “eminently qualified,” while NDP ethics critic Nathan Cullen said it calls into question the merit-based appointment process Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) has promised.

Mr. Munroe has been a consistent Liberal donor over the years, regularly meeting Elections Canada maximums.

  

Elections Canada filings show Mr. Munroe donated $30,413.92 to the Liberal Party, various riding associations and political candidates. Mr. Munroe, who until recently served as a party lawyer and is a partner at Fasken Martineau in Vancouver, last donated in September 2017.

In 2012, he gave $600 to then leadership candidate Mr. Trudeau. In 2006, he split donations to leadership candidates, with $500 to Gerard Kennedy and $140 to Michael Ignatieff.

Mr. Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C.) said the appointment “raises some flags” in the midst of ongoing appointment problems “across the board,” including “massive” delays that have created a backlog of unfilled positions.

“Now we have this, which is at the very minimum a situation where it looks like Liberals picking Liberals for plum appointments,” said Mr. Cullen .

  

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority pays its directors $15,000 annually, in addition to $1,250 per board meeting and between $6,000 and $8,000 if a member also chairs a committee. Its latest financial report shows director earnings ranging from $24,000 to $64,000 in 2016. 

The NDP has pushed for an arms-length appointment process that involves other parties in the selection process. The government should make public the pool of candidates or its short-list for such appointments so that appointees like Mr. Munroe don’t “suffer under a cloud of suspicion,” Mr. Cullen said.

“What you want to assure people is [a Liberal connection] wasn’t the determining factor,” he said, adding he couldn’t comment on Mr. Munroe’s character or qualifications. “It does jump out that he has incredibly strong ties and very generous donations to the Liberal Party of Canada.”

Mr. Munroe worked as B.C. chapter president from 2007 to 2011 and served as national legal co-chair from 2014 until he resigned a few weeks ago, he confirmed to The Hill Times by email.

  

Mr. Munroe declined to respond to criticisms levelled by Mr. Cullen but said he felt the appointment process was fair. It took more than a year to complete and included an application by him, with “extensive material,” a number of references who were all consulted, and an interview.

“I also listed all the experience I had advising clients in the marine, resource, construction, and retail industries, as well as my previous board and executive experience,” Mr. Munroe said by email, adding he put himself through university working in the port at the grain terminals.

Mr. Munroe has practised law for 18 years and was described by his firm in a press release announcing his July hiring as a “renowned lawyer” and by the port as “a recognized leader in British Columbia’s legal and business communities.”

Former Liberal Party B.C. chapter president Craig Munroe pictured with Katie Telford, Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff, in May 2016. Photograph courtesy of Facebook

Both the Privy Council Office, which administers appointments, and Mr. Garneau’s spokesperson Delphine Denis said in emailed statements the selection was open and transparent.

“Regardless of past political experience, the merit-based selection criteria ensures that all candidates are treated fairly and equally,” said Ms. Denis.

Governor-in-council appointees follow a number of guidelines, PCO spokesman Paul Duchesne added, including that public office holders “should not participate in any political activity which might impair, or be seen to impair, their ability to discharge their duties in a politically impartial manner or cast doubt on the integrity or impartiality of the office.”

Other appointees with Liberal links

During debates in the House last week Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Man.), parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, suggested appointees with Liberal connections were few compared to the “hundreds of appointments” that have been made by the government. He pointed to former Progressive Conservative prime minister Kim Campbell’s post as chair of a judicial appointments panel as evidence politics isn’t a factor.

NDP ethics critic Nathan Cullen said Mr. Munroe’s appointment ‘raises some flags.’ The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

That’s a “false equivalence,” said Mr. Cullen, adding the government “trot[s] out her appointment as the justification for every partisan appointment they’ve done.”

Opposition MPs have repeatedly criticized the merit-based process, most notably after a former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister was appointed official languages commissioner. The fallout ultimately forced Madeleine Meilleur to withdraw her candidacy. The position is still vacant.

Since, there have been several other lower-profile examples of people with close ties getting the often lucrative posts. The Hill Times reported that Jonathan Goldbloom, who since 2006 has donated a total of $20,000 to the Liberal Party of Canada and ran unsuccessfully to be a federal Liberal candidate in Quebec in 2014, was appointed to Via Rail’s board.

An appointment to the board of the Canada Infrastructure Bank, named in November, has Liberal connections, The Globe and Mail reported. Former Calgary mayor David Bronconnier ran for the federal Liberals in the 1997 federal election but lost. 

Two others named had made political contributions to both the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party.

A failed Liberal candidate, Jennifer Stebbing, was also named director at the Hamilton Port Authority, iPolitics reported in April, and a Liberal donor, Darin Deschamps, was handed a three-year post on the Toronto Port Authority board.

swallen@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

Correction: The main photo caption has been updated to say Tyler Banham is the Liberal Party Ontario chapter president, not the B.C. chapter president.