04 March 2014

How did she work, exactly? #nlpoli

How odd that the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador – arguably the busiest job in the province, bar none -  received only 46 e-mails in a one week period in January.

And how extremely odd that none them – apparently  - came from any of her staff, senior public servants, cabinet ministers or other politicians.

And how completely bizarre that in that same period the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador didn’t send a single e-mail of her own to anyone about anything.

Then there’s the question of briefing materials.

Nothing written at all, according to the official response to an access to information request by the Telegram’s James McLeod.

Forget that the one week period McLeod asked about included the blackout.

On the face of it, the written reply to McLeod’s request is preposterous.  He should have pages upon pages upon pages with all sorts of deletions for mandatory and discretionary exemptions under the Access to Information Act.  The 46 e-mails from members of the public bitching about the blackouts would be the only thing McLeod could read. If he’d gotten that,  McLeod surely would have mentioned all the blacked-out material and the hundreds of pages that went with it, not to mention the huge bill.

But instead the 46 e-mails are – apparently – all he got.

What it looks like is that the Premier’s Office gave him only the stuff sent to the generic e-mail set up for the public to use.  More likely than not that wouldn’t be the e-mail the Premier actually uses. It’s a bit like the Premier’s Office twitter account.  Someone on the staff manages it. 

The real e-mail account is something else. There are plenty of good reasons for setting things up that way.  For one thing, so many people write to, call, or e-mail the Premier every day that he or she would never be able to wade through it all in order to find the messages that needed personal attention.

For another thing, the Premier handles all sorts of highly confidential e-mails.  Imagine if the Premier on any given morning did what we have all done:  clicked to forward an e-mail to someone and in the rush selected the address for someone with a name similar to a cabinet minister or senior public servant.  E-mail software is so helpful when it suggests names as you type.  Too bad that sometimes it gives you a choice you didn’t intend to use.

It might also be possible that Kathy Dunderdale didn’t actually send e-mails herself but relied on staff to do it all. That wouldn’t be all that surprising given a little tidbit that burbled to the surface during the Twitter nonsense:the Premier didn’t use a government-issued telephone.  Instead, she only carried her own personal cell phone.

Your humble e-scribbler noted something at the time that’s worth thinking about again, in light of the laughably small number of e-mail’s the Telly’s ATIP turned up:

A government cellphone ensures that government documents and communications are traceable and accountable. The fact the Premier dumped her government issued Blackberry for a personal phone opens up all sorts of questions  - with potentially serious implications  - about accountability, confidentiality, and security.

Maybe Kathy and her staff handle a great deal of their work through non-government e-mail accounts.  That way, their memos, e-mails and conversations are completely secret.  Plenty of politicians have been doing the same thing.  That doesn’t make it right.  In fact,  all those other instances of politicians using private accounts for official business point up the huge security and accountability problems the practice entails.

And then there’s a third possibility. “I have taken the position personally that I don't want to be engaged.”  That’s what Kathy Dunderdale told reporters during the Twitter scandal.  So maybe Kathy Dunderdale really was a figurehead.  All the work normally done by a Premier went to someone else.  In that scenario, Dunderdale functioned as nothing more than a parrot, reciting lines she was fed. 

In that scenario,  when the Premier’s Office told McLeod they had absolutely no written briefings for the Premier, they would have lied.  It’s not like they haven’t lied before, mind you, like say about purple files:  according to the official ATIP reply they didn’t have any purple files – no responsive records -  even though people had seen them and the Premier’s Office confirmed they existed.  Maybe they lied again.  Stranger things have happened before.

So whether they lied  or there is some other explanation,  there’s got to be some reason why the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador received only 46 e-mails in a single week and didn’t send any herself.

Not in this day and age, no matter who the Premier is.