Episode #5: MacKay on “FIRING” [THEN] and “HIRING” [NOW] Neil Stewart
In my last episode, I indicated that my next “article” would be an exposé on Neil Stewart’s long-time involvement in major scandals in PEI over the past 20 years under Conservative and Liberal governments alike. What exactly is an exposé?
That’s a major piece of work that will take some time.
Until that’s finished, I’ll post some additional episodes in my THEN and NOW series since there are just so many PC Party flip-flops to cover.
This episode also deals with the issue of “spoliation” – but I’m also highlighting how our elected MLAs are really not the people making decisions about what major files go forward within their departments – especially the Department of Economic Growth, Tourism and Culture – nor decide who gets put in place under their “supervision” as Ministers to drive those economic schemes into the future.
Nowhere is the impotence of our elected MLAs more obvious – which exposes corruption in new ways – than the hiring of Neil Stewart to work (1) initially under the supervision of the Minister of Health, Hon. James Aylward, then (2) permanently under the supervision of the Minister of Economic Growth, Hon. Matthew MacKay.
Just think about it for a minute: Both Aylward and Mackay repeatedly called for Neil Stewart to not only be removed from the government for ordering the deletion of Melissa MacEachern’s government records (the Deputy Minister of Innovation PEI who Neil Stewart replaced in 2012) and breaking the Financial Administration Act by signing off on the e-gaming $950,000 loan (taxpayer’s money all deposited into McInnes Cooper law firm’s bank account, then “written off” completely with no accounting of where it went, other than “professional fees”)…..no, both these PC MLAs wanted a criminal investigation into both Ghiz and Stewart suggesting that Stewart likely should do time in jail as the former Chief-of-Staff to former Ontario Premier McGuinty, David Livingston, did (4 months) for destroying provincial government records.
Back THEN Aylward and MacKay wanted to FIRE Stewart. So what happened after the election?
1. Premier King Removes Neil Stewart as Deputy Minister of Finance
A short time after the election, it appeared the PCs were finally in a position to do something about the Liberal’s refusal to remove Neil Stewart from Government. King moved swiftly to remove Stewart, appointing Daniel Campbell – who was Secretary to Treasury Board under Premier MacLauchlan – Deputy Minister of Finance. In an Order in Council, the removal became official:…Neil Stewart had been removed from Government by the PC Government, or so it seemed:
At no time did Premier King mention anything about Neil Stewart remaining in Government after replacing him as Deputy Minister of Finance. The truth is that Neil Stewart never stopped drawing a Deputy-Minister salary for a single day in the transition from the Liberal to the PC governments.
Premier King removed Stewart from the public eye with no fanfare but secretly shuffled him into some obscure backroom office under the Department of Health (of all places). To do what? To (officially) “advise” the Minister of Health, Hon. James Aylward – the very same PC MLA who just months earlier was screaming for Neil Stewart to be criminally prosecuted and put in jail. How could a vetting process go so wrong? There was no hiring process, Stewart was appointed.
We likely never would have learned about Stewart’s new job, securely positioned at the helm “behind the scenes” like always, if not for some persistent questioning by Green MLA Trish Altass.
It was an evening session in the House, and MLAs were reviewing budget estimates for the Department of Health. Minister Aylwards and a staff person with the Department were responding to questions from MLAs on the budget lines.
Altass had to extract the information that finally revealed Neil Stewart was the person working for Aylward question by question. Nothing was volunteered by Aylward in the open and transparent vein of: “Here’s something exciting I want to bring to your attention. I hired Neil Stewart as an advisor but I’m paying him the same as my Deputy Minister”.
But once the “Neil Stewart works for me now” cat was out of the bag, Aylward did what every boss does when asked about a newly-hired employee – he praised Neil as the right person for the job to justify the hiring and expense line in the budget.
Minister Aylward didn’t explain how he changed his mind about Stewart belonging in jail, or at least needing to be anywhere but in a powerful senior position in the PEI government.
MLA Altass didn’t raise any concerns over Stewart getting a deputy minister-range salary because it was Neil Stewart. Peter Bevan-Baker had previously called for the MacLauchlan Government to remove Stewart from his position when Stewart was found to have broken the law (Financial Administration Act) signing off on that infamous $950,000 e-gaming loan (aka…free money from the “taxpayers pool” disguised as a loan).
Here’s a couple of statements taken from a November 16, 2016 CBC article covering this particular disclosure in Public Accounts about Neil Stewart signing the loan illegally, and the follow-up reactions from Opposition MLAs on the Committee:
Opposition Leader Jamie Fox is demanding [Michael Mayne], [Neil Stewart], and [Doug] Clow be immediately suspended for having “broken the law.” “Under Section 76 of the Financial Administration Act, the finance minister is empowered to suspend from their employment officials who had knowledge of the violation of any law relating to the disbursement of public money,” Fox said in a statement Wednesday.
“Basically, in layman’s terms, they broke the law, that’s what that means. Violating an act is breaking the law,” [Peter] Bevan-Baker said Wednesday. That’s why he asked for the names of those involved who are still working for the government. “They should be held accountable for their actions,” he said. “This is just the latest version of people in high levels of government – both elected and unelected – violating laws, twisting rules and regulations in a manner that they can accomplish whatever they want to accomplish,” Bevan-Baker said after the meeting. “We have to make sure we don’t allow this again.”
But that was way back THEN…….months ago!
2. James Aylward Becomes Neil Stewart’s Boss
When Green MLA Trish Altass raised concerns about Neil Stewart’s “advisory” job under Minister of Health James Aylward those concerns had to do with spending priorities within the Department of Health, and whether the money should have been spent on front-line services, recruiting more health care workers, etc.
She didn’t have much information to go on other than numbers on a budget page, so she started with a question about the increase in the budget over the previous year (Aylward answer = salary). Why the increased salary? (Aylward answer = new person). Who was the new person? (Aylward answer = Neil Stewart).
Ms. Altass: Thank you, Chair. Just kind of wrapping my head around this, so who is the senior advisor responsible for Charlottetown?
Mr. Aylward: His name is Neil Stewart. [Hansard, July 19, 2019, p. 941]
The subsequent news story about a week later explained that this unannounced, newly-created senior position was not actually advising Aylward on health issues, but rather on economic development issues related to the Charlottetown Area Development Corporation (CADC). That information was actually shared by Aylward in response to further questioning by Altass on July 11, 2019:
Mr. Aylward: So to clarify what I said, this person brings a lot of corporate knowledge from past files that he’s been involved with the previous administration for a number of years. Two of those projects that are potentially being looked at, potentially, again – being open and transparent as I can be here and giving you all the facts – is that we’ve had a lot of requests from both Charlottetown and Summerside to go back and look at CADC and SRDC so this person could potentially be involved with looking at the SRDC file as well. [Hansard, July 11, 2019, p. 942].
Stop and ponder what’s going on here. The same Minister who just months ago was screaming for a criminal investigation into the illegal activity of Neil Stewart is not only “selling” his attributes to the Legislative Assembly in this shameless flip-flop, but fully admitting that Stewart isn’t doing something the PC Government initiated – a ‘new path’ so-to-speak – he’s bringing his “…corporate knowledge from past files that he’s been involved with the previous administration for a number of years.”
Who exactly is the supervisor and who’s the new employee again?
3. Matthew MacKay Becomes Neil Stewart’s Permanent Boss
It’s likely that Neil Stewart would have gone ahead doing what Neil Stewart does at the behest of that secret group of noxious narcissists I was telling you about in the last episode, working diligently in the shadows, hidden from public view or scrutiny. just like always, showing up only as an obscure salary budget line in the Department of Health’s budget without anyone ever noticing that he hadn’t left Government. I didn’t notice, and I was looking. His name didn’t show up in the employee database.
After learning that Stewart was working under Aylward, I would periodically check back to see if Premier King had given Stewart another position. His name never showed up in the Government employee directory. Until recently.
At some point after news that Neil Stewart was still drawing a Deputy Minister’s salary despite having been removed as a deputy minister, Premier King must have finally decided that he might as well put Stewart back in the Department of Economic Growth, Tourism and Culture since what he was doing had nothing to do with health.
Does anyone really believe for a second that either Minister James Aylward or Minister Matthew MacKay had anything to do with Neil Stewart being placed in a deputy minister level senior position under their supervision? Can you imagine either of them calling up Premier King pleading: “I need a favour, I need Neil Stewart to help me run my biggest money files and I need him immediately!”? Not a chance!
They would never have conceived such a thing, and likely protested vigorously when they were told what was going to happen. What more proof does a person need to see that elected Ministers don’t “run” their departments, they “manage” them by doing what they’re told and continually assuring the public that all is well within their respective Departments….because they know they’re going to get the blame for problems.
Listen to Neil Stewart’s current boss, Hon. Minister MacKay, arguing that government employees who destroy government records – I’m sure he had Neil Stewart in mind given that it was MacKay who tried continually to get all the documents surrounding Stewart’s destruction of Melissa MacEachern’s records – need to lose their jobs, not just get a fine.
You might ask, “Why would Premier King put both Minister Aylward and MacKay in such a predicament? Why would King put Neil Stewart in that Senior position under their respective supervision surely knowing it’s the last thing in the world either of them would have wanted?”
I believe that too would be a misdirected question. Premier King didn’t decide to put Neil Stewart in that powerful position under Minister MacKay. But if he didn’t….then who did? Now we’re getting to the questions that need to be asked.
THE FIRST PERSON TO CORRECTLY GUESS THE PHRASE WINS $100.00!
Note: Well, this is embarrassing. I miscounted my letters in my phrase and actually have 52 letters. I’ve removed the comma (it was after the second “R” in the first row) where there is now a “W”. The remaining letters were shifted one space to the left.
So the phrase has exactly 52 letters with NO spaces between words. Remember, you only get one guess – email your guess to firstname.lastname@example.org