I was pleased to be noted by the Hon. John Manley in a recent book about government transitions, called “Off and Running” by Dr. David Zussman.
As a consequence of the attention directed at the appointment process during the Mulroney years, Penny Collenette was recruited in 1993 to assume responsibility for governor-in-council appointments in the prime minister’s office. She quickly found common cause with senior officials in the Privy Council Office, and they worked together to radically reform the appointment process by advertising upcoming openings for appointments and publicizing the qualifications for each of the more than three thousand appointments.
John Manley, a former minister and deputy prime minister under Chrétien, recalls the ground breaking work done by Penny Collenette. With Prime Minister Chrétien’s strong support, she insisted that all nominees for GIC appointments be competent for the job. Since so many government appointments are not necessarily meritorious, but are based instead on partisanship defined in the broadest terms, in the mid-90s her emphasis on demonstrated competency was a new concept. Collenette was also committed in balancing the gender mix among GIC appointees. She was very insistent that for every vacancy there was at least one female candidate. While she wasn’t always successful in appointing a woman to a position, she was “fearless” in providing advice, according to Manley, and ultimately she did change some of the attitudes of ministers and prime ministers when it came to making government appointments. Her persistence and willingness to “push back” were important elements in improving the quality of appointments in the 1990s.