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Patronage: You dance with the one who brought you 

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:00 p.m, August 9, 2007]

Since their party took power, Conservative insiders are landing government appointments ranging from land-claim negotiators to boards of government agencies.

OTTAWA -- The Conservatives' election platform included a call to set "merit-based requirements for appointments to government boards, commissions, and agencies" to ensure competitions are fairly conducted. 

Now, the party that brought in the Federal Accountability Act is being accused of playing old-school politics and rewarding their friends in their first 18 months in power. 

Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice was criticized this year after he replaced a number of experienced federal land-claim negotiators with less experienced, handpicked appointments. The positions pay up to $200 an hour and among the appointments that raised eyebrows were Prentice's former law firm partner, Gavin Fitch, and Stewart McInnes, a cabinet minister in former prime minister Brian Mulroney's government. Critics suggested that Prentice's decision to move out people experienced with the files would slow down land-claim talks.

The rules governing who can be appointed a negotiator are not stringent. The department of Indian Affairs tells PoliticsWatch that there is "no specific policy" that prevents a negotiator to simultaneously be suing the Crown while representing the Crown in negotiations. Even registered lobbyists can be appointed negotiators. 

In February, the Globe and Mail conducted a review of the appointments to committees to oversee the nomination of judges and found that 16 of 33 people selected to the committees by Conservative justice ministers had current or past ties to the Conservative party. The positions are not paid, but are powerful because they recommend to the justice minister who he or she can appoint to superior court positions. The 16 people with Tory ties include a geologist who is widely considered Prime Minister Stephen Harper's best friend, a firefighter from Nova Scotia who ran unsuccessfully for the provincial Conservatives twice, the president of a Quebec production company who is a trained graphic artist. 

The Liberals have accused the Conservatives of making numerous other patronage appointments. This includes Harvie Andre, a former Mulroney cabinet minister, who was named a land-claim negotiator last year. Jim Gouk, the long-time Reform, Alliance, Conservative MP, was appointed to the board of directors of NAV Canada. Also, Kerry-Lynne Findlay, a long-time Vancouver lawyer and former Canadian Alliance candidate, was appointed to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal last year.

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