Premier denies involvement in Foote hiring, won't fire cabinet minister

The premier of Newfoundland and Labrador has announced an independent review into movement of executive staff within government, and is standing by his comment that he didn't order the hiring of a longtime Liberal staffer.

Dwight Ball said the Mitchelmore Report — a scathing document by the commissioner for legislative standards into the actions of cabinet minister Christopher Mitchelmore — "identified areas where improvements can be made within the executive movement practice of government — a process that has been in place for decades."

The House of Assembly sat late Tuesday night as the members debated the findings of the report. The house adjourned just before 8:00 p.m. with plans to resume the debate on Wednesday morning.

Mitchelmore has already stated he will apologize, however, members could suggest further reprimand for him. 

PC Leader Ches Crosbie said Mitchelmore should do the "honourable thing" and resign. He wants more than an apology from the cabinet minister. 

Independant MHA Paul Lane agreed, and said that "we cannot let this stuff slide. For me, simply saying 'I'm sorry' unfortunately is just not going to cut it."

The commissioner for legislative standards is recommending that Mitchelmore be reprimanded over the hiring of former Liberal staffer Carla Foote at The Rooms. 

The premier has thrown his support behind the minister and will not cut him from the position within the Liberal caucus. 

When you look at the evidence that's in the review, there is nothing in the evidence that's given to the key findings to suggest that I was involved in that at all.     - Premier Dwight Ball

The Mitchelmore Report

Foote worked with Ball in the opposition office and in government communications. She is also the daughter of lieutenant-governor and former federal Liberal minister Judy Foote. 

Bruce Chaulk's report continuously refers to allegations that Mitchelmore "grossly mismanaged" his obligations with respect to the Code of Conduct.

The report includes two reports by the Office of the Citizens' Representative and a response from Mitchelmore.

There were five allegations investigated by the citizens' representative. But just two allegations resulted in findings that Mitchelmore breached the code.

Ball said the provincial government is looking to make improvements following an independent review, which will include a jurisdictional review of this process in other parts of the country, and a review of Treasury Board executive compensation policies and procedures.

There are accusations in the citizens' representative report that Ball ordered Foote's hiring. 

Ball defends Mitchelmore's work as minister

During question period Tuesday, Crosbie hammered away at the premier over his alleged involvement and how he will deal with one of his top cabinet ministers. 

Ball vehemently denied ordering Foote's appointment, while touting her background in the private sector. 

"I did not order Minister Mitchelmore to hire Ms. Foote," Ball said, noting his staff also did not order the hiring. 

"If it wasn't for the surname of Foote, we wouldn't have this discussion today," Ball said.

"When you look at the evidence that's in the review, there is nothing in the evidence that's given to the key findings to suggest that I was involved in that at all."

The report says that the board of directors at The Rooms were told by former CEO Dean Brinton that Mitchelmore, on a phone call, told him that hiring Foote was an order from the premier.

Despite several MHAs putting questions to Mitchelmore directly, Ball answered on his behalf.

Sherry Vivian/CBC

"There were three changes made at The Rooms.… No one is discussing these three changes, and the environment at The Rooms is improving."

Mitchelmore and Ball have repeatedly referred to the hiring as a "lateral move," since Foote's salary would remain the same as her former position at $132,000.

However, prior to Foote being hired without competition, the job had been publicly posted with a salary of $105,000.

The report was critical of Mitchelmore for increasing the salary by $27,000 so it would be on par with Foote's compensation at her former job.

When asked by Crosbie if Ball would fire Mitchelmore, the premier threw his weight behind the advanced education and skills minister.

"He's worked extremely hard," Ball said.

NDP Leader Allison Coffin also asked if Ball would remove Mitchelmore from his duties and Ball, again, said Mitchelmore is a "hard worker."

The premier, however, does say he accepts the findings of the report.

Mitchelmore, for his part, would not scrum speak with reporters outside the legislature. 

'Smoke and mirrors'

Tory MHA Barry Petten questioned the validity of the Independent Appointments Commission, which was introduced by the Liberal government to remove political patronage. 

"[It's] all smoke and mirrors and everyone knows it, too," Patten said. 

It appears Foote is in The Rooms to stay, despite the scathing report. 

Asked if the position will be posted for fair competition, Ball reiterated that the museum, art gallery and cultural centre is doing better with her there. 

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