Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Cabinet shuffle, point one: Say you'll run again, and get extra pay

I make it 29 Liberal MLAs who have yet said they will not be running next year. The cabinet shuffle left only two without posts of some kind - Randy Hawes and Colin Hansen. You can now count them as retiring.
That means every one of the 27 Liberal MLAs who intend to run again got a position of some kind. (Which brings to mind this week's Time Colonist editorial on the MLAs' club.)
It's a pricey approach by Premier Christy Clark. She gets an extra $92,000 a year as premier, on top of MLAs' $102,000 base pay.
Sixteen full cabinet ministers will get an extra $51,000 a year each. Two junior ministers will get an extra $36,000 each. And nine parliamentary secretaries - sort of helpers to cabinet ministers in specific areas -  will get $15,000 each.
All in, the extra pay amounts to $1,115,000 on annual basis (though the election is next May, so they won't have the jobs for a full year).
The average extra salary for the 27 MLAs expected to run again is $41,300 - about $3,000 less then the average wage in the province.

Correction: Sorry, I forgot Liberal MLA John Slater (Boundary-Simalkameen) who is also left out of the money list and has not yet said he won't be running.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Media should ban the blight of email pap 'answers'

It's time for the media to push back at the epidemic of stupid, self-serving email responses to questions from politicians and government.
Once, not long ago, journalists called government for comment from officials or ministers They either got the chance to ask questions, or reported the government had no one available to comment.
Then the communications people came up with a better ploy - for them.
Email the questions, they said, and the minister or department will email answers.
And foolishly, many reporters and media outlets said yes.
Vancouver Sun columnist Peter O'Neil gave a great example of why that has been a really bad idea in his blog.
Last week, he reported the National Review Panel assessing the gateway pipeline is worried that Enbridge's various pledges to take extra measures to increase safety are all voluntary. The company, or future managers, could simply decide not to do them.
So the panel asked Transport Canada to look at ways of making the requirements binding. The most obvious solution would be to change the pipeline regulations.
O'Neil wanted to know if Transport Canada would do that. He tried to ask Transport Minister Denis Lebel.
Instead, he got this email response from "a spokeswoman:"

"I can tell you that our government is very supportive of the Joint Review Panel as it provides an independent and comprehensive evaluation conducted by scientists. Government officials are cooperating with the Joint Review Panel to ensure it has the information it needs. To that end TERMPOL (part of the panel review) recently responded in a clear and transparent fashion to an information request from the JRP. This kind of dialogue is essential to ensuring that this comprehensive evaluation is done scientifically, on an independent basis."

That kind of non-answer is the norm. And while O'Neil just reported Transport Canada had no comment on the issue, too often reporters actually use pieces of these emails, even when they say nothing.
And since the practice works so well in avoiding questions and managing information, it is spreading to companies and other organizations.
The solution is simple. The media should just say no when offered an email response and report the government or organization would not provide the minister or anyone to answer questions. If additional email answers are needed to provide technical information or detail, that's fine.
Politicians are brilliant at not answering questions - far better than most reporters are at asking them.
But they should at least get the chance to try to get answers.