07 September 2010

Who speaks for cabinet?

Apparently, a newly elected backbench government member of the House of Assembly who also sports a new title of “Legislative Assistant”. Here’s a story that ran in the Western Star on September 3:

The province is working toward an emergency phone system that meets its needs.

So says Paul Davis, MHA for Topsail and legislative assistant to the minister of Municipal Affairs, adding that a committee of senior officials was struck early in 2009 and charged with the task of preparing a request for proposals for a feasibility study into a provincewide [sic] enhanced 911 system.

The province as a cabinet minister responsible for this.  Her name is Diane Whelan.

There is one – there may be two – officially designated alternate ministers able to speak authoritatively on behalf of cabinet when the minister is not available.

In some cases, the deputy minister of the municipal affairs department could speak on the record about government plans. 

There is also a very senior official responsible for emergency services  - called the chief executive officer, but he’s equivalent to a deputy minister - who would be able to deal with this inquiry about province-wide 911 service.  

There’s also an assistant deputy minister for fire and emergency services.

Now if Paul was a parliamentary secretary, then he’d have the to speak on behalf of the government and  - in effect  - on behalf of cabinet about the government’s policy intention.  There used to be a minute of council in the 1980s that set out the duties, responsibilities and powers of a parliamentary secretary.

What about legislative assistants?  They are pretty shadowy creatures.  There’s not even any official public list of how many government backbenchers carry around this extra title. Sometimes they just pop up attending events on behalf of ministers.  

Sometimes, apparently, they can speak about what government is doing.

But on what legal basis do they do anything at all?

One has to wonder as well on what basis backbenchers like Paul Davis get elevated to some sort of pseudo-cabinet job – speaking on behalf of a minister and the government – within only a figurative few days of getting elected while other capable backbenchers just languish. 

It’s all very odd.

Very odd, indeed.

- srbp -