21 January 2014

Minister Lane #nlpoli

In all the political chatter on Monday,  no idea got a stronger negative reaction than the one from your humble e-scribbler that Paul Lane had secured himself a plum appointment in a future Liberal government, including a seat in cabinet.

For some reason, the idea of Minister Paul Lane just infuriated people.

Some said it was just not true.

Some said it was preposterous.

Others said that no one had made Lane any promises.

Let’s take a closer look at this.

The first two are just opinions.  Okay.  They are not convincing arguments.  They are just opinions that, for the most part, lack evidence to back them up..

The third one is irrelevant. 

No one said it involves promises and normally it doesn’t.  There’s a good reason for that.  It is a criminal offence for someone to offer a public official a benefit for taking an action. It is also a criminal offence to accept a benefit or seek one.

But still, incumbents in a winning caucus involving a change of government typically get rewarded with a cabinet seat, a job as a parliamentary secretary or a key job in the House.  Look at 1972, 1989, or 2003 and you’ll see the general pattern holds true.  The variations – like Kevin Aylward (1989) or Ross Wiseman (2003) – all come with easily understood explanations. Everyone gets looked after.  No one gets left behind.

The current crop of politicians are basically the same as politicians in this province back as far in time as you care to remember.  They are the same as politicians everywhere in Canada.  There’s no reason to believe they will act any differently from their predecessors.

So basically, politicians will expect a reward for their hard work.  They will expect that years of toiling in the opposition wilderness will eventually earn them a benefit.  Money is nice so an extra job that adds some cash to the base pay is good.  But the real plum is cabinet.

Lots of considerations go into cabinet making in Newfoundland and Labrador. There are no hard and fast rules but there are some that tend to hold up over time.  If the party has had a leadership contest, usually the runners up all get a job in cabinet that corresponds to where they finished in the race. 

Opposition critics often wind up in the portfolio they used to critique.  That reflects the old Westminster term for the opposition critics:  shadow cabinet.  You were supposed to get to know your shadow department and operate as a minister in waiting. 

In some places and at some times, other factors come into play.  Geography is a big factor:  you’d need a minister from each of the cities and major towns in the province, as well as the major regions. 

Sex is important: even if there are only a couple of women in caucus, they’ve got to be at the cabinet table. 

Talent or an established skill can count for a lot.  Think Beth Marshall, the former Auditor General in 2003.  Hard to leave her on the bench. 

Seniority can count as well.  That includes seniority as a measurement of how long someone has been in the House as well as how long someone has been in a caucus.  Ed Joyce is a key player in the Liberal caucus.  Even if that didn’t make him a sure bet for a cabinet seat or the Speaker’s job, his seniority as a Liberal would.  he’s been there longer than anyone else.

Go back to Ross Wiseman for a second.  One of the reasons he didn’t get to cabinet right away was the sheer number of people in the newly elected caucus who merited a cabinet seat before him.  Ross had only been a Tory for a couple of years.  Lots of others outranked him in seniority, for one consideration. 

So Danny made him a parliamentary secretary to the health minister and in 2007 put him in cabinet.  For those three years or so, Ross was actually the one political constant in a department that went through a couple of ministers.  It’s also the largest and most politically sensitive department in government.  That’s hardly a case of being left behind.

And now we have Paul Lane. 

Except for Ed Joyce and Tom Osborne, no other ordinary Liberal caucus member outranks him in seniority in the House overall. The rest all date from 2011, the same year as Lane.   They will get to cabinet before him on that basis alone but Paul Lane has a better claim on cabinet by virtue of seniority than anyone who comes after him.

What’s more, other than Tom Osborne, Lane’s the only member of the Liberal caucus with experience in government.  Sure it’s only a few months as a parliamentary secretary, but that’s more than anyone else has.

Add in any real or perceived role in bring down Kathy Dunderdale.  Don’t even think about what he might do in opposition to score political points on his former associates and thereby build more points toward his big reward in 2015. Paul Lane will reap a fine reward after the next election.

Most people are probably freaking at the thought of cabinet minister Paul Lane because of their reaction to the kind of buffoonish or thuggish behaviour Paul Lane has displayed so far in his political career.  But that’s not the same thing as whether or not Paul Lane operates in a world where he will get a sweet reward in 2015 for crossing the floor to the Liberals.  Sure he gave up a few thousand as a parliamentary secretary today, but so what?  In a matter of a few weeks or a few months, he’ll be taking home more and he’ll be doing it  - in all likelihood – as a cabinet minister.

He’d likely never have gotten that shot if he’d stayed with the Conservatives.