22 May 2018

A cabinet, a caucus, and a legislature walk into a bar... #nlpoli

Don't feel bad.

Most people in Newfoundland and Labrador have no idea how our political system works.

Self-described experts.

Reporters.

Pundits.

Very often hopelessly lost when discussing even the most basic points about our political system.

The real problems start when the politicians and, as it turns out,  the public servants supporting the House, have no idea what they are talking about.

Like, say, the briefing note handed to the House of Assembly management committee last week that included these statements:
  • "A travel budget of $42,100 is allocated to the Official Opposition Caucus for Leader’s Travel in the 2018-19 Budget.
  • While the funding is provided to the Leader, it can be utilised by caucus members and caucus staff to travel when authorised by the Leader.
  • Mr. Ches Crosbie, as the Leader of the Progressive Conservative caucus effective April 28, is effectively the leader of the Official Opposition Caucus. However, as Mr. Crosbie is a nonelected member, resources cannot be provided to him. 
  • When the leader of a caucus is unelected, mechanisms need to be found to allow the caucus to operate. The Official Opposition caucus has advised that MHA Paul Davis is designated as Leader of the Official Opposition caucus for administrative purposes.
  • This is necessary as only a public officer may hold signing authority required for all financial, human resources and administrative matters relating to the caucus. However, resources assigned to the Leader are not provided to Mr. Davis.
  •  A request was received by the Speaker on April 30, 2018 from the Official Opposition Caucus requesting the House of Assembly Management Commission to consider a policy change that would allow members of the caucus and staff to access this funding (see Attachment 1)." 

Ches Crosbie is the leader of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party.  He does not have a seat in the House of Assembly.  Therefore, he cannot be the head of a group of members in the House of Assembly.  His status as party leader outside of the House has nothing to do with anything.

Crosbie is not a member of the legislature at all, thus the statement in the briefing note that Crosbie is a "nonelected (sic) member"  is simply ridiculous.  Just to make sure there is no confusion about this, we need look no further than the definition used by the House of Commons of what a caucus is:
Members of the House of Commons belonging to the same political party, often together with their counterparts in the Senate, are collectively referred to as that party’s parliamentary caucus.
Members of the legislature.

Not a member of the legislature equals not a member of caucus, which also means NOT Leader of the Opposition as far as the House business is concerned.

The definition of a party leader used by the House of Commons  - and Newfoundland and Labrador since 1855 - is someone selected to lead the party in the legislature and in an election campaign.  "Those so chosen are either already Members of Parliament or are expected to seek a seat in the House of Commons as soon as possible."

That last bit is important but we'll get back to that.

So what is David Brazil in this case?

Well, he is the Leader of the Official Opposition in the House of Assembly.  He is not the temporary or interim Leader Opp any more than Tom Marshall or Beaton Tulk were interim premiers.  They had the job, legally and constitutionally.  They get to do the job.  Period.  The fact there is some other guy outside the House who leads the party is irrelevant as far as the House is concerned. Until Ches Crosbie is Crosbie MHA,  his status for the conduct of legislative business is "invisible."

Whatever the Conservative does within its own corner of the House is entirely its business.  Onlt the members of caucus should run the caucus, the same way that the House members collectively govern  themselves.  There are no outside forces, unelected and unaccountable, who should tell them what to do. 

And if the current House of Assembly administrative practices don't let Brazil do the job he holds, then the policies are out of whack and need to be changed very quickly.

As for Ches,  well, Crosbie needs to get his ass into the House of Assembly without delay.  Let Brazil or Hutchings or one of the other party faithful in the House resign so that the boss may get a seat. That's what traditionally happens in every legislature that uses the Westminster system. It happened last in Newfoundland and Labrador in 1987.  That's actually the last time a party found itself in this spot.   The difference these days is that Crosbie will only have to wait, at most, about 90 days to take the job of opposition leader.  There's no reason for the Tories to avoid a by-election since every seat they hold is a safe one for them.  So let them get on with it.

The same principle applied to Earle McCurdy when he was the NDP leader and didn't have a seat in the House.  The fact the NDP didn't insist on either sitting member giving up her seat for the boss says a lot about their disregard for the people of the province or their own internal problems but that's another matter.

Incidentally, the policy mentioned in the briefing note on this subject merely refers to a general principle used to allow party leaders some administrative discretion when spending the money.  It doesn't create the nonsense in the rest of the note about Crosbie's imaginary status as an unelected member.  In that respect, Crosbie has the same status as anyone else in the province, which is to say he has no status in the legislature at all.

Period.

Brazil should get down to the business of exercising the job he has.  If anyone quibbles about it,  then it becomes a question of privilege.  And all that should be in the few weeks until Ches gets elected to the House.

Period.

Where there is an issue that needs serious attention is in the House support staff  who evidently have no idea what they are doing. Things are pretty bad when the ignorance of fundamental principles extends to the Clerk of the House  - herself a former Clerk of the Executive Council - and the Legislative Counsel, both of whom signed off on the briefing note and all the jibberish it contains. 

These are the folks everyone else looks to for guidance.  If *they* have no idea which end is up, then the whole place is in danger of going up on the constitutional rocks, if we haven't already run aground a few times.

But that's a story for another time.

-srbp-