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The curious contract of Nova Scotia political adviser Bernie Miller

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I like Bernie Miller, and I think Stephen McNeil is lucky to have the currently-on-leave managing partner at McInnes Cooper as one of his Liberal government's key political advisers.

Having said that, I also think, as a matter of public policy, we need to ask serious questions about McNeil's deal with Bernard F. Miller Services P.C., Inc., the company that provides the services of its sole employee -- one Bernie Miller -- to the government.

And beyond that, to question Stephen McNeil's cavalier, condescending attitude to legitimate questions about Miller's contract.

Let's start with the contract.

However you spin it, Miller is, in reality, a government employee. He doesn't have another job. He can't -- for potential conflict-of-interest reasons alone -- consult for most clients. More importantly, he works full time -- probably more -- as deputy minister. His office, office services, computer, cell phone, work-related expenses and more are provided by the government.

The contract says he's entitled to standard employee benefits, even if the premier and Miller insist he's chosen not to take them. (If that's the case, government lawyers should have crossed the clause from the contract.)

McNeil claims the government saves money because it's not paying benefits and wouldn't pay severance if Miller leaves early (another provision that, mysteriously, isn't in his actual contract).

But it isn't clear whether, in negotiating Miller's $180,000 compensation package, anyone fluffed up the total to reflect the fact he'd fund his own health and other benefits. Or, conversely, took into account the disconnect between the three per cent corporate tax Miller Services would pay versus the 21 per cent Bernie Miller, individual taxpayer, would fork over to the treasury.

McNeil's ludicrous eve-of-labour-negotiations suggestion he'd welcome other public servants choosing to work under such contracts shows how little he understands where his government's revenues come from -- and how little he respects salaried public servants.

McNeil began by claiming the contract included provisions -- no benefits, no severance -- it didn't, then argued the contract's words didn't matter. Finally, he fell into the last defence of the otherwise defence-less: blaming those who asked legitimate questions for scaring public-minded citizens like Miller from public service.

If that's all it takes to scare them off, we'd be better off without them.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: Andrea Vail/flickr

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