11 March 2005

Buffing a TRD

On a snowy Friday in March, a few days before the House is due to re-open Danny Williams decides to shuffle around a couple of portfolios. Here's the release, in all its flatulent splendor.

Trevor Taylor gives up Labrador Affairs to Paul Shelley, who gains new responsibilities because, as the release says, Paul has "deep roots" in the Big Land.

Trevor apparently has big challenges in fisheries and aquaculture, meaning that he is taking flack for the recent crab business, the sideways shuffle of a policy that was an apt metaphor for the species it affected.

At the same time, the Minister of Justice gets to take Intergovernmental Affairs. Ostensibly meaning - the release claims - this change allows the Premier to devote more time to other things like the Department of Business.

This little creation, you may recall, has sat moribund for the entire time the Tories have been in office. It still exists without a deputy minister or assistant deputy and, as near as anyone can figure out, any defined purpose that is different from anything that has gone before.

The only major departmental initiative to date appears to have been handing over almost $100, 000 to a local marketing firm to do some baseline research on attitudes to the province. It was undoubtedly good work done by an excellent firm but one must look askance at the lack of productivity of this department.

Business as a department of its own (acronym DBus, pronounced "Dee Bus") duplicates the work of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development - with the acronym InTRD - formerly Industry, Trade and Rural Development, with the acronym ITRD or as I preferred DITRD. [Wags out there will stick a "u" between the "t" and the "r" to get the full sound of both acronyms, but I digress. Sometimes acronyms are inadvertently meaningful.]

The DBus budget consists essentially of the money formerly allocated to the "Manufactured Right Here" promotion in InTRD. No surprise therefore that its major project in the coming months is likely to be... wait for it...a promotion campaign to "brand" the province in the investment sector on the mainland. For that, we need a minister (the Premier) and a whole departmental apparatus. Pull the other one; it's got bells on it.

If this shuffle is about productivity and focus, I'll make a simple observation that might produce a greater result than debussing the Premier from IGA.

My observation is even more substantial that having ministers and their staffs actually working rather than paying attention to Open Line and then calling in to comment on something. Surely to goodness the Premier can communicate more effectively with the people of the province than by calling an open line program like say...the Moon Man or Sue used to do. Surely there are better uses for political staff than sitting by their radios for upwards of six hours a day on the off chance Joe from Bung Hole Tickle will call and complain about the government.

People complain about government like they breathe. Government in this province started to get less productive after the arrival of Brian Tobin, when he and his crowd started spending more time working the phones to Bill and George rather than trying to get some work done. Danny and his crowd seem to be following suit.

That said, I am going to hang my blogger hat on a more substantial issue. If you take this release at face value, the DBus has been lagging because the Premier has been preoccupied with other things, like the offshore oil talks. That's an admission of what I have said before. The time-management and productivity problem of this government sits solely in the Premier's own lap. Danny Williams has injected himself into anything and everything he could whenever he could. As a consequence, the government has been dealing with issues in series rather than in parallel.

As I noted in the post "Ed Byrne Redux", the Premier needs to take his hands off files that properly belong to his ministers and let his ministers work them.

It is time for a New Approach, Danny. In fact, it's eighteen months past due. This minor shuffle can't fix one of the fundamental problems on The Hill. Even if Tom Marshall is the new IGA minister, everyone knows that the Premier will still be speaking on, acting on and otherwise working files that Tom would be capable of handling himself. Or Danny will be working stuff from Natural Resources, Fisheries, Aboriginal Affairs, Health or anything else that catches his or the media's attention.

The New Approach was supposed to be more than a novel use of the shift key.

Getting more productive activity out of this government will take more than changing the names of ministers on departmental letterhead.

There's an old saying in the public relations business that you can't buff a t*rd. It means that no amount of "spin" or flatulent writing can cover over what everone else can see. It's like murdering both your parents and then calling for mercy because you're an orphan.

Shuffling around a couple of portfolios doesn't get at the root of the productivity challenge.

This release seems to be applying some Kiwi and spit instead.