28 July 2010

Kremlinology 23: a little something for everyone

Newbie member of the House of Assembly Paul Davis picked up a rather conspicuous new job on Tuesday.

He is the new legislative assistant for the municipal affairs department. 

Now this stands out for a bunch of reasons. 

First of all, this job doesn’t really exist, as such.  It’s one of those made-up jobs.  There are parliamentary secretaries as set down by the Parliamentary Secretaries Act. These people help ministers of large departments in what are effectively training positions for future cabinet ministers.

But legislative assistants?  They aren’t really mentioned.

That’s the second thing that makes this noticeable.  This appointment got a news release praising Davis to the hilt.  There’s no reference at all to what the job entails.

You might be surprised to find that Tracy Perry is the legislative assistant in InTRD.  She’s actually on the departmental website.  But there doesn’t seem to be a news release on her.

But what about Ed Buckingham, the guy representing St. John’s East?  Well, there is a single passing reference to him – by district, not name – as the legislative assistant for environment. Maybe he got punted from the job:  he isn’t on the departmental website any more.

Thirdly, this one stands out because of all the departments needing help, municipal affairs ain’t it. The department doesn’t generate much in the way of legislation so it’s pretty hard to imagine what Davis is going to be doing. Charlene could use Ed Buckingham to help her find where the boundary on her responsibilities are.  And if Ed had his turn at the assistant’s gig, then Davis’ police experience in finding things could come in handy for Charlene.

Fourthly, Davis’ appointment stands out because it is in a department where the minister is on the mend from a rather serious illness. Might that be the reason he is on the job now? If Whalen is still on the mend, then Davis might be able to take on some extra duties as a proto-minister without actually forcing a cabinet shuffle.

After all, a cabinet shuffle would be rather noticeable at this point.  Someone already pointed out that we are overdue for a Williams cabinet shuffle. Is this an effort to skate by?

Fifthly, Davis is rather junior to be getting a nice little plum.  He’s the last man in. Others – like say, political rainbow man Steve Kent -  have been around the House since 2007 doing little more than nursing their frustrated ambition.

Sixthly and perhaps most tellingly, Davis’ appointment draws attention to the number of people in Danny Williams’ caucus who are drawing extra pay.

There are 19 people in cabinet, four parliamentary secretaries (the maximum under the statute), one parliamentary assistant and at least two and maybe three of these strange birds called legislative assistants.*

Then there is the speaker, deputy speaker, chair of committees, deputy chair of committees, whip, caucus chair and the vice chair of the public accounts committee.

Altogether, that’s 33 people out of a 44 member caucus in a 48 seat legislature. In any normal legislature, that would be just about all the Tory caucus.  That’s about the same number of people drawing extras as we saw in the last days of Roger Grimes’ crowd and in the late 1980s as first Brian Peckford and then Tom Rideout staggered toward the end of the 1985 mandate.

In both instances, the parties had been in power for more than a decade. The extra pay helps to placate people who might never get a shot at cabinet in a caucus that might not get re-elected to government again.

In other cases, the extra pay is a way of keeping the peace among a restless and ambitious crew.  Politicians without much to do – and that would be most of the Tory caucus these days – have a disquieting tendency to spend their time brooding and plotting.  A few bucks can go a long way to distracting the potential revolutionaries from their course or co-opting a perceived rival.

But does any of that fit?

Maybe yes. 

Maybe no.

There’s more to the Davis announcement than the couple of paragraphs in the release. Sometimes with these things it takes a while for the story to emerge.


- srbp -

*  There could be another one, by the by.  There’s also a passing reference to one for Joan Burke.  It's hard to tell if this is an elected member or – as would normally be the case – a reference to a political staffer called the legislative assistant.  The staffer is the one who helps the minister or house leader manage the administrative aspects of the House.