June 3, 2015
By Jacques Poitras

Green Party leader says non-partisan civil servants, not MLAs, should decide what groups earn summer job funds

The leader of the Green Party has blown the whistle on a system of awarding provincially-funded summer jobs that he says the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives have used for years.

Green Party Leader David Coon said it’s time for the government to take the program out of the hands of MLAs and put it under the supervision of non-partisan civil servants.

David Coon says he was shocked when he learned earlier this spring that, as a member of the legislature, he personally controlled funding for 80 weeks’ worth of student summer employment in his Fredericton South constituency.

Coon told reporters on Tuesday he agonized over which of the 49 non-profit organizations in the riding, which were seeking a total of 1,900 weeks, would get the precious 80 he had available and which would lose out.

“It was terrible,” Coon said.

“There’s no way you can do it in a way that you’re going to feel good about afterward when you have such a huge demand.”

But even worse, Coon said, was the realization that government MLAs get 160 weeks to allocate, twice as many as opposition members.

He said it’s time for the government to take the program out of the hands of locally-elected members and put under the supervision of non-partisan civil servants.

“We need a program that’s professionally run, professionally delivered, based on professional criteria that are non-partisan in nature” he said.

Only that will ensure “that summer students no matter where they live get a fair shake at summer work and non-profits who need summer students to help them carry out their programs in summer get a fair shake at support.”

Liberal House Leader Hédard Albert says he sees no reason to change the student summer job program.

But Caraquet Liberal MLA Hédard Albert responded that he sees no reason to change the program.

“The system is the system,” said Albert, the Government house leader.

“I don’t know when the system was put in place, I don’t remember the date, but it’s always worked the same way.”

In a candid exchange with reporters, Albert said unlike Coon, he didn’t have to wrestle with the dilemma of which non-profits in his riding received summer-job weeks.

“It was a little bit easier this year because we had more weeks, because we’re in power,” he said.

“For me, it’s acceptable. I’m happy because I have a little more than the others, because I’m in power. Last year, I had less because I was in opposition and the [PC] government members had more. It’s always worked the same way.”

Students in opposition-held ridings may be losing out this year, he said, “but when we [Liberals] were in opposition, it was the same thing for us.”

Coon speculated that Liberals and PCs have been reluctant to change the system because MLAs from each party know they’ll eventually be back in power and have more weeks to hand out.

But the Tories may be changing their position.

Progressive Conservative MLA Trevor Holder, who acknowledged he had more weeks to distribute when he was in government, says it may be time to re-examine the system.

“Just because you have a certain process in place historically doesn’t mean it can’t be revisited,” he said.

Holder pointed out it was the PC government of Bernard Lord that partially de-politicized the summer job system in its first term.

Until then, the government got to choose which students were hired for the summer jobs, a decision now left to the groups that receive the money.