Advice to Jim Prentice: If, in some future pre-election leaders’ debate someone asks you about Gary Mar’s 2013 compensation package, don’t say: “I had no option.”
In fact, that would be true if Mr. Prentice were to say it. Ditto Ric McIver, the second- or third-runner, depending how you calculate it, in the 2014 version of the Progressive Conservative Party leadership race.
As for Thomas Lukaszuk, he was in cabinet when the details of Mr. Mar’s compensation deal were worked out, so maybe he’d better really beware that one in the event of yet another “miracle on the Prairies.”
Just the same, best for all three of them to try to spin their way away from it. After all, someone might just say, as Progressive Conservative Party of Canada leader Brian Mulroney famously said during that fateful 1984 debate, addressing Liberal prime minister John Turner about his acquiescence to patronage appointments made by Pierre Trudeau: “You had an option, sir. You could have done better.”
Mr. Mar, the front-runner unexpectedly and narrowly defeated by the catastrophic Alison Redford just in time for Halloween 2011, has been haunting the PC Party ever since.
Mr. Mar had been the candidate favoured by the PC caucus – disdainfully, though not without justice, dismissed as the Tory Old Boys’ Club by many of us here in the Blogosphere.
No doubt their preference in candidates was influenced by a certain degree of old-fashioned Alberta misogyny, as we suspected at the time. It turns out, though, that they must’ve known a thing or two more about Ms. Redford than was disclosed to us among the great unwashed, who had been persuaded by her campaign she was some kind of brainiac who came from the progressive side of the conservative movement.
With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it’s clear that Mr. Mar – a skillful old pol of considerable experience – would have been a far better choice to act as helmsman and steward of the PC Party in its dotage. Leastways, he wouldn’t have charted a course, as Ms. Redford did, straight for the reef.
Mr. Mar, being no dummy, recovered quite nicely from the disaster that became evident in the wee hours of Oct. 3, 2011.
Having won with no support from her own caucus, Ms. Redford was anxious to get the caucus favourite out of town as quickly as possible. Having no Alberta trade office in Buffalo, she shuffled Mr. Mar off to la dolce vita in Hong Kong.
At any rate, it is fair to describe what awaited him there, as Alberta’s non-state plenipotentiary, as a pretty sweet deal.
It was revealed last week in financial disclosure documents from the annual report of the province’s International and Intergovernmental Relations Department that Mr. Mar was paid $275,159 in base salary, another $50,868 in “cash benefits,” whatever that means, plus $234,252 in non-cash benefits last year.
Not only is that an increase of $100,000 from his pay the year before, the local press reported, but you’ve got to know he didn’t have to buy a thing while he was looking after the province’s trade interests – whatever that involves – in Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia.
As I wrote back on Oct. 17, 2011: “Albertans will probably be even more annoyed when the penny drops that, unlike you or me, the disappointed Progressive Conservative leadership front-runner won’t have to pay his own rent in hyper-expensive Hong Kong, and will probably have a decent enough living allowance to cover all the pork, barbecued or otherwise, that he wants. There’s sure to be a nice car provided, with a driver to boot.”
Well, now they know! And, yes, they will be annoyed – that’s one word for it, anyway.
This is not the first time Mr. Mar – whom we might call, with apologies to author Jane Gardam, Old FILTH, for Failed In Legislature, Try Hongkong – has succeeded at something like this.
The best example was when he left his job as an MLA and Ralph-Klein-era minister back in 2007 to serve in a similar – and similarly well-compensated – role as the Biblical-sounding Minister-Counsellor of the Province of Alberta to the United States, working out of the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
When he quit the Legislature for Washington, he said he wouldn’t take his $478,000 MLA severance while he toiled in the vineyards of the public service, then he said he’d take it but not while he was in Washington, and then he took it anyway.
That may have contributed to his loss to Ms. Redford in 2011 – certainly both she and candidate Doug Horner complained about it at the time. They and others also noted Mr. Mar’s questionable decision as Health Minister in 2004 to pay $400,000 to his former executive assistant Kelley Charlebois to do something that was never clearly explained or even written down, but seemed to involve only spoken advice.
No sooner was Mr. Mar in Hong Kong than he became something of a hazard to navigation for Alberta’s mighty Tory ship of state.
Premier Redford ordered him to take an unpaid leave of absence in March 2012 for auctioning off a trip to the Asian entrepot during a fundraiser to pay some of the $260,000 debt left over from his leadership campaign the year before. The Opposition screamed for his head. Later he was cleared by a couple of consultants hired by the deputy minister of the premier’s office.
Now Mr. Mar is back in the news, appearing in the same general kind of news story that has haunted the PC Party from time to time throughout his long association with it.
“They had to make a special deal for him and there’s no good reason for that other than the fact that he is a political insider and a former leadership candidate,” NDP leadership candidate Rachel Notley told a local newspaper in a thumbnail analysis that rings true.
But given the way his Alberta political career ended in in 2011, Mr. Mar may not be all that unhappy with this outcome. As for the RMS Torytanic, this time he may have holed her below the waterline.