28 June 2011

A room with a view of the pork barrel

The provincial ambassador’s office in Ottawa costs the better part of a half million a year to run, hasn’t had an ambassador in it for the better part of the past two years and so Premier Kathy Dunderdale will keep it open because it is so effective.

The office serves a great purpose when it’s functioning the way that it should,” she told a Telegram editorial board [last] Wednesday. “And it’s important to me that we maintain that.”

The thing is the office hasn’t served any purpose except to demonstrate how completely useless it is or how crap Premier’s have been in finding people to occupy the sinecure.

The first incumbent -  former Liberal cabinet minister, former wannabe Conservative candidate, former Liberal candidate and soon-to-be-former radio talk show host Bill Rowe – stayed in the job for about half a year and accomplished exactly squat before packing it in and coming back home.

Rowe – who left politics in the late 1970s after a political scandal about leaked police reports – wrote about his complete waste of tax money in Ottawa in a book that became a national best seller last year.  The book is a litany of slapstick moments like making taxpayer’s foot the bill for shipping his used snow-tires to the nation’s capital or his inability to get Danny Williams’ political and public service bureaucracy to cough up a Blackberry and a laptop for weeks on end.

Your humble e-scribbler has described the book as an insider’s account of events the author wasn’t inside the room for.

As Rowe documents, Danny Williams offered Rowe a key position in the new administration before the 2003 general election. Rowe stayed in his job on-air during the election and took up his ambassadorial appointment as Williams’ personal representative to Hy’s early in 2004.

The second incumbent  - former Memorial University professor John Fitzgerald  - reportedly spent most of his time not meeting with federal officials, that is when he wasn’t hanging out in the Commons visitors gallery.  His tenure in Ottawa coincided with Danny' Williams’ endless feuds with Ottawa for something or other and after a certain point he reportedly had a hard time getting in to see anyone. Regular readers will recall him as Our Man in a Blue Line Cab.

Fitzgerald quietly left Ottawa when his contract ended.  Williams gave him another contract in St. John’s in the classic patronage holding pen of the protocol office.  His official title is “special advisor.”

Before Bill Rowe, the provincial government never maintained an office in Ottawa.  The job of dealing with the federal government fell to officials and ministers, including the Premier.  And more often than not over the past 30 years there has been an office called Intergovernmental Affairs intended to deal specifically with – you guessed it – relations between and among governments in Canada.

So there you have it.  The office has been vacant for more time than it’s been filled, a point labradore makes succinctly.  And when it has been occupied, the incumbents apparently accomplished nothing.

And yet the current Premier wants to keep spending money on an office that has never worked because it is great when it works.

Says more about Kathy Dunderdale’s judgement than anything else, apparently.

- srbp -