Hot! Paroles decline as Conservatives fill board positions

NationalPost.com – news
Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011.   Glen McGregor, Postmedia News

The percentage of offenders in Canadians prisons who are granted parole has dropped steadily as the Harper government fills up posts on the National Parole Board with like-minded conservatives.

Two dozen members of the National Parole Board appointed since 2006 have donated to the Conservatives or have close political links to the party, an Ottawa Citizen review of Elections Canada records and cabinet appointment notices found.

At least 24 Tory appointees to the parole board have made financial contributions to the party or its candidates or had other involvement in Conservative politics at the federal or provincial level. These appointments are happening while the Tories are putting forward new legislation to tighten parole rules.

The Parole Board has long been a favoured patronage post for party loyalists, under both Conservative and Liberal governments. In opposition, the Harper Conservatives denounced the cronyism that dominates the staffing of such boards and tribunals. They pledged to set up an independent body to review patronage appointments, but scrapped the plan after the prime minister’s choice to lead it was rejected by the opposition.

Members of the Parole Board are responsible for deciding if offenders are granted conditional release.

Parole Board data show steady drops in the percentage given day parole or full parole since the Tories formed government in 2006.

In 2005-06, the last fiscal year of Liberal government, the board granted 74% of applications for day parole.

But as Tory appointees joined the board, that rate fell steadily. In 2009-10, day parole was granted to only 66% of applicants.

Similarly, full-time parole granted has also fallen incrementally in every one of the past five years, from 45% of requests in 2005-06 to 41% in 2009-10.

Among the government’s appointees to the Parole Board are four unsuccessful candidates for the Conservative party or its predecessors. Other appointees were elected as provincial politicians for Progressive Conservative parties.

Full-time positions on the board pay up to $138,400 annually, with higher rates for chairs and vice-chairs of the board. Part-time members earn per diems of $590 to $690.

Earlier this month, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced two new members of the board. Damian J. Parrent is a former superintendent of the Niagara Region Police Service, and past donor to the federal party. Frederick Wesolowski is also a former police officer and one-time Reform party candidate in Saskatchewan. Both were given three-year part-time seats on the board.

Toews also designated full-time board member William Tufnell a vice-chairman of the board for Ontario region, a position that pays $135,300 $159,200. Elections Canada records show Tufnell, a former York Region police officer, donated $250 to the party in 2009.

The low limits on political contributions make it unlikely that anyone was rewarded for their donations with a patronage post on the Parole Board. But the uniform pattern of support for the Conservative party or its candidates shows that the political stripe of those appointees runs decidedly blue.

The record of donations to the Conservatives by Parole Board appointees mirrors a similar pattern in judicial appointments made since the Tories took power in 2006. An Ottawa Citizen-Postmedia News report published last year found that among judges who had made political contributions, a strong majority gave to the Conservatives.

But the trend of appointing politically active Conservatives appears even more pervasive among Parole Board members than on the bench. Some judges gave to both the Liberals and Conservatives, but Conservative appointees to the Parole Board who made political donations gave almost exclusively to the Tories, Elections Canada records show.

The percentage of offenders out on some form of conditional release has climbed slightly since the Tories took power, but a closer look at these data shows that this is largely due to a rising number of inmates who have served two-thirds of their sentence and have automatically been granted statutory release.

Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland said the Tories had promised to make boards and tribunals more independent but since they were elected, have stacked them with loyalists.

“It’s not just about rewarding Conservatives,” he said. “It’s about exerting control over all facets of government. They’ve done it with unabashed passion.”

Toews’ office did not respond to a request to comment.

Other Conservative appointments to the Parole Board include:

• Harvey Cenaiko, a former Progressive Conservative provincial politician and cabinet minister in Alberta. Named chairman of the board in June 2009, a position that pays between $218,700 and $257,400.

• Marie-France Pelletier, the former executive assistant to New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord, was named a full-time member and designated as executive vice-chair, a position that is paid at between $165,400 and $194,700.

• Patricia Haasbeek is the wife of a former adviser in Toews’ Winnipeg office. She was named a full-time member in 2007 with a salary now pegged at $117,600 to $138,400.

• Louise Harris of Burlington, Ont., served as chief of staff to Frank Klees, an Ontario minister under the Progressive Conservative governments of Mike Harris and Ernie Eves. In 2009, Harris donated $250 to the federal Conservatives. She was appointed a full-time board member in September.

• Jacques Bouchard of Longueuil, Que., served as deputy chief of staff to Conservative cabinet minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn before running unsuccessfully for the Tories in the Montreal suburb of Longueuil. He was appointed a full-time member in June, after occupying another patronage post on an employment insurance board.

• Alex Dantzer had sought to the Conservative nomination in Surrey, B.C., in 2006 but lost to Dona Cadman. He was named a part-time member of the board in 2008.

• Howard Bruce, a twice-failed Conservative candidate in the Quebec riding of Portneuf-Jacques-Cartier. He was named as a part-time member of the Quebec region of the board in September.

• Tyler Shandro, a Calgary lawyer who donated $490 to Tory MP Lee Richardson’s riding association in 2005 and another $525 to the federal party in 2008. Shandro was named a part-time member of the board in June.

• Winnipeg lawyer Keith Heming has donated a total of $1,499 to Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge and the party’s Winnipeg South riding association over several years. He named a part-time member in December.

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