Tim Bousquet’s latest personal attack on someone he doesn’t know

Graham Steele used his CBC column this week to muse on the frequency of journalists going to work for government. The hook was Premier Stephen McNeil’s recent appointments of Chronicle-Herald reporter David Jackson, CTV reporter Jackie Foster, and former CTV Ottawa Deputy Bureau Chief Laurie Graham to various positions in his office.

Along the way, Steele paused to raise an eyebrow at Graham’s salary of $160,000 as the premier’s principal secretary:

That’s a higher salary than the premier’s chief of staff, who is ostensibly her boss — and more than any cabinet minister.

What Steele knows perfectly well, but didn’t say, is that hundreds of provincial government employees make more than cabinet ministers. Laurie Graham’s salary places her on par with, to cite but two examples, assistant deputy ministers and legal aid attorneys. For one of the two most senior positions in the Office of the Premier, it’s hard to call that excessive.

bousquet_200x300But Steele’s offhand brickbat was all Tim Bousquet, publisher of the online Halifax Examiner, needed to launch into one of his patented personal attacks on someone he doesn’t know. Not only is Graham making too much money (albeit less, I venture, than she made as Deputy Ottawa Bureau Chief for CTV), she committed the cardinal sin of marrying Acadia University President Ray Ivany, a favourite Bousquet whipping boy.

That’s right: the premier created a bullshit position with a bullshit job title — principal secretary, really? Like she’s going to be filing letters and working the switchboard? — and created a lavish salary for the spouse of a connected friend of the premier….

Even worse, the political favourite is Ray Ivany, whose name adorns the Ivany Report, the saintly figure who deigned to tell us peons that if only we would change our bad attitudes this province would get itself together economically.

This is followed by a detailed recitation of how much Ivany makes as president of Acadia, and speculation about the size of his pension once he retires. Bousquet claims to have been “told Ivany leaned on McNeil to hire Graham, because evidently the household can’t live on $400K and change a year.”

This is, first of all, childish. A premier’s personal secretary is no more a secretary than is the secretary of defence, commerce, or state in Bousquet’s and my country of birth. It’s a long established senior political position.

It is, second of all, brazenly sexist. Expecting women to accept less pay because their husbands already have good salaries went out with Brylcreem and DA haircuts.

brylcreem_adMost of all, it’s rank speculation. Bousquet offers no evidence Ivany and McNeil are friends, and his unattributed claim that the former leaned on the latter is thin gruel. Exactly what leverage can the retiring president of a small, rural university exert on a popular premier soaring atop the polls?

This is a good place to point out that Laurie Graham and I are longtime friends—the sort of friends who live thousands of miles apart, but bump into each other once every three or four years and have a pleasant conversation. I hope we’ll bump into each other more often now that she’s back in Nova Scotia.

I got to know Laurie 25 years ago, when she came to work at CBC Radio in Sydney. For a time, when she was a TV reporter and I had a weekly segment on First Edition, we worked at side-by-side desks. She rose quickly through the ranks, becoming a national TV reporter in Halifax, then Ottawa, before joining CTV.

Laurie is personable, smart, funny, hard working, and kind. She has deep knowledge of Nova Scotia culture and politics. There is every reason to think she will make a solid contribution in a premier’s office that is, frankly, short on some of those qualities. Had Laurie been on board, I doubt McNeil would have blundered into the witless decision to gut the film tax credit.

But of course, Bousquet wasn’t thinking when he hammered out his bilious screed about Laurie’s appointment. He was doing what many regular readers of the Halifax Examiner love him to do: dashing off easy, invidious cant, rote denunciation of someone he and they know nothing about. It’s treatment he visits on anyone who succeeds in Nova Scotia, especially anyone appointed by government to manage or study anything difficult.

Bousquet is like a lot of Halifax lefties: He loves government in theory; No unionized government employee’s salary, pension, or perk is ever too rich in his books; If taxpayers can’t afford it, borrow more, is his constant refrain. But let anyone get paid to manage the joint, and he lapses into mindless vituperation.

There are many things to like about Halifax Examiner, but knee-jerk personal attacks on people Bousquet don’t know are its most unbecoming feature.

An afterthought: A few of the many commenters on Bousquet’s post argued Laurie Graham’s position should have been advertised and filled through an open competition. No it should not. Important as it is for civil service positions to be filled through scrupulously fair and objective competitions, every government is entitled to a few political aides appointed “at the discretion of the minister.” These are executive assistants to cabinet ministers, constituency assistants to MLAs, and the principal secretary in a premier’s office. The jobs vanish when a government is defeated. They serve the government of the day, not The Government of Nova Scotia, and every government is allowed broad latitude to fill them.