A new Woolwich staff position pushed for by Todd Cowan has been filled by a young woman with no local government experience, but known to the mayor. On Apr. 26, Saskia Koning, a South African citizen who was in Canada on a work visa, began her job as an executive assistant. She was selected from more than a hundred applicants to fill the three-year contract position that pays almost $50,000 a year, plus a generous complement of benefits that add another 30 per cent to the cost.
The job involves providing administrative support to the mayor and council, along with some communications functions, such as writing press releases. Its creation was approved by council earlier this year.
Of the large number of applicants, the mayor and CAO told the newspaper she was the most qualified.
Questioned about the hire, chief administrative officer David Brenneman said privacy laws prevented him from discussing specific details of her employment and the necessary federal government paperwork.
“What I can reiterate though is that the Township of Woolwich as a corporation follows and did follow a standard and legal recruitment process, the contract employee Saskia Koning is legally permitted to work in Canada, and further that the township is in compliance with applicable Canadian law and will continue to meet said obligations.”
In order to take the job and remain in the country prior to the imminent expiry of her previous work permit, she would need clearance from Immigration Canada based on a labour market opinion (LMO) from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, according to HRSDC.
“Businesses must recruit Canadians before hiring temporary foreign workers. When all reasonable efforts to hire domestically are unable to meet acute short-term labour market needs, eligible employers can seek an LMO to hire temporary foreign workers,” explained HRSDC spokesperson Lisa King.
“A number of factors are taken into consideration by HRSDC/Service Canada as part of the LMO application process, including whether the temporary foreign worker is likely to fill a labour shortage as well as the efforts the employer made to recruit and train Canadians or permanent residents.”
King added the department was unable to discuss a specific employer or employee, directing questions about citizenship issues to Immigration Canada, which hadn’t replied to specific inquiries prior to press time.
The new position was approved in February as part of the 2012 budget. A subsequent job posting solicited applications until Mar. 23. The LMO process outlined by HRSDC typically takes two to three months, after which a work permit could be issued by Immigration Canada. Koning was on the job Apr. 26.
Brenneman said he couldn’t discuss if the township went through the LMO process, citing privacy issues.
“I’m not aware of any concerns that would prevent her from working.”
He stressed, however, that the hiring followed standard procedure.
The mayor was involved in the hiring process, but the township has no policy about hiring friends of current staff or council members. In keeping with provincial rules, Woolwich does have a nepotism policy governing the employment of family members, said Brenneman.
Cowan, acknowledging a friendship with the young woman, said her hiring was “happenstance,” noting he had been approached by others also interested in the job.
“I think there were 116 or 120 résumés, so before they even got to the interview stage they were vetted by the HR person and, I think, David (Brenneman). There was a screening process. When it got to me, there was only two people that I had actually talked to before,” he said.
“We follow an open and transparent process, and that’s what was done here.”
He dismissed concerns the job went to a young, non-Canadian, saying the $43,000 to $53,000 pay range essentially made it an entry-level position that qualified candidates would not have applied for.
“That’s not an issue. I feel the process was open,” he said of Koning’s citizenship. “We were just looking for the right person at the right pay, because we know that we weren’t paying the big dollars.”
At almost $50,000 plus full benefits, however, the position pays about 50 per cent above private-sector averages for administrative assistance jobs – about $35,000 – and much more than entry-level offerings, which run closer to $25,000. Executive assistants, with more experience and responsibility, can earn closer to the range offered by the township, according to figures available from federal employment websites.
Citing his own experience, including time at Queen’s Park, Cowan noted executive assistants can earn more than $100,000.
“I used to be an EA in the private sector and I made considerably more than this, so it’s an entry level,” he said of the newly-created position. “Anybody hiring to do what (Koning) was hired to do would be making $75,000.”
Brenneman declined to discuss whether the township even considered lowering the pay scale for someone with little experience, sticking instead to the $43,000-$53,000 range.