There certainly is no shortage of aspects related to the 2015 NL Boundaries Commission Legislation to debate and dissect.
Premier Davis has stated clearly, over and over, that the primary rationale for the timing of this legislation was the necessity to cut the cost of the House of Assembly.
Opposition Leader Dwight Ball had previously stated that a Liberal Government would cut the number of MHAs to 40. The debate for the Liberals came down to protecting four Labrador seats, ensuring there was a provincial election in 2015 and letting the new commission determine the new composition of the House.
There was some reference in the paltry few days of debate about to the impact the elimination of seats would have on the effectiveness of representation, particularly for rural regions of the province. In the end, the two parties sang from the same hymnbook and passed the legislation, appropriately, under the cover of darkness.
The Taxpayer Will Save:
I would argue, regardless of the Premier's real motive, that there is no doubt about the financial savings. The taxpayer will save money that would have been expended on ten MHA salaries and pensions - in perpetuity.
This post is not about the anti-democratic approach of the government. My purpose is to try and dispel the fraudulent assertions that there will be no savings because travel, communications and staff expenses will soar.
Travel Costs Will Remain Consistent:
Those suggestions are wrong. No matter how many MHAs this province has, the travel costs on the whole should remain constant. Individual MHAs may have to travel more. Yes, their individual travel expenses will be higher, but the total expenditure on travel by members of the House of Assembly should remain the same, or be lower. It simply an accounting exercise where the travel budget associated with traveling to regions of one district are transferred to another.
CommunicationCosts Will Remain Consistent:
Another suggestion is that communication costs will soar. Again, why? Like travel, phone, fax, internet, cell phone, mail and printing costs should remain the same - on the whole. Yes, individual MHA's may spend more time on the phone, send out more letters, print more literature but the total expenditures will not increase, it will remain the same.
No Need For More Staff:
The other suggestion put forward by the myopic accounting challenged grand standers is that new staff will have to be hired. Currently, every MHA is entitled to one constituency staffer. Some have a constituency office, some keep their constituent assistant at the House of Assembly. It varies between member and region. Even if some of the constituency staff were kept on, there are huge savings to the House of Assembly budget.
Right off the top, ten of these jobs will be cut, at an average of $60k per year that equates to $600,000 in savings annually, on top of any long term pension liability. There is no need to expect that any extra staff will be required, Members of Parliament in this province have between 70 - 88,000 constituents. They face huge geographical challenges. Yet, they can get by with two or three staff. Many have only one constituency office. (Some have more) That is in excess of 20,000 people for each staffer! Do you still think 13,000 is too many for an MHA?
In addition, it is worth noting that each party has a caucus research and communication staff that work on files for MHAs, in addition to their constituency assistants. These staffers assist with speeches, briefing notes, research to assist members with appeals and constituency newsletters. The number of staff is determined by the size of caucus, but works out to about $20,000 a member. Cabinet Ministers get an Executive Assistant to help manage the workload.
A Bit Here & A Bit There:
Sure, the amount seems inconsequential, it is just $2.5 million a year but you have to start somewhere and with 60% of the provinces budget committed to sacred cows like healthcare and education, a bit here and a bit there add up.
If this is all about savings, Premier Davis is correct.
Next: The Urban Vs Rural MHA Workload Myth
Next. I would like to tackle the rural vs urban MHA workload issue, who is busier? After that, lets discuss the inequality of voting power: one person-one vote vs the right to 'effective representation" and than perhaps we can get into a broader discussion of more meaningful reforms that can be adopted to create a more democratic democracy.