A Montreal lawyer and friend of Stephen Harper's communications director has been named vice-chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission - an appointment the NDP says was marred by improper interference by the Prime Minister's Office.
"There is a sort of glazed over effect that Canadians have with the outrageous behaviour of Harper, but this one pretty much takes it," NDP heritage critic Charlie Angus said.
"They've undermined the CRTC, they've interfered with decisions, they've rewritten their mandate and now they have decided to appoint someone as vice-chair of a regulatory body whose only expertise in this seems to be that he ran for the ADQ and he knows [Harper spokesman]Dimitri Soudas and [Conservative Senator]Leo Housakos."
Heritage Minister James Moore announced Friday that the job of vice-chair of the commission that regulates and supervises Canadian broadcasting would go to Athanasios (Tom) Pentefountas, a partner in the Montreal law firm Silver Sandiford whose public work appears to centre on his role in the Montreal Hellenic Chamber of Commerce.
A spokesman for Mr. Moore did not deny that Mr. Soudas and Mr. Pentefountas are friends but said Mr. Angus's allegations are ridiculous.
"Mr. Pentefountas went through the selection process ran by the Department of Canadian Heritage and PCO and was determined to be the best candidate," Jean-Luc Benoit said. "We are convinced he will make a positive contribution to the board of the CRTC and are glad he accepted this appointment."
The job description for the position, which pays between $190,400 and $224,000 per year, says successful candidates should have a degree or job experience in a related field of study to the CRTC, as well as senior-level decision-making experience, familiarity with the regulator's framework and knowledge of the broadcasting industry.
The release issued by Mr. Moore does not mention any of this in relation to Mr. Pentefountas.
Mr. Angus said he was told last December by sources in the broadcasting industry that the vetting process had not been followed and that Mr. Pentefountas would get the job even though he was not on the shortlist of eight candidates. Three of those who interviewed for the job are existing CRTC commissioners.
When Mr. Angus questioned Mr. Moore about those rumours in the House of Commons, the minister responded that the appointment had not been made.
The Prime Minister's Office wants friendly faces on the CRTC because there is a decision coming down that would remove the obligation of any broadcaster or newspaper to fact-check stories or be accurate in their coverage as long as the reporting does not endanger lives, Mr. Angus said.
"We see their intense interest in Fox-style news. Mr. Harper has already asked for personal updates on the process at the CRTC," the New Democrat charged. "His former communications director [Kory Teneycke]suddenly leaves and then announces that he is going to lead up the run for Sun TV. Then the CRTC announces well maybe we don't need any broadcast standards."
On the eve of that decision there will be someone with ties to the Conservative Party with no broadcast experience who is sitting as the vice-chair, Mr. Angus said.
"It's a $60-billion industry," he said. "You have to have credible people who have are seen as transparent and accountable. You can't have the Prime Minister deciding he's going to put political friends on there."