Friday, February 5, 2016

THE POWER OF TWO



Because of the element of human involvement, successful reform must therefore also include a reform of attitude. This includes the creation and maintenance of an institutional culture of responsibility that extends from the MHAs, to the Commission of Internal Economy, to the Speaker, to the Clerk of the House and to the officials in the House administration. That is why I believe that there must be a strong emphasis on both individual and collective responsibility within the system. This will be reflected in such matters as codes of conduct, training obligations, specific duties imposed on the Commission of Internal Economy, and accounting officer duties imposed on the Clerk
- Chief Justice Green


                                                                       


A rule is a rule is a rule, unless it is not. 


I was a little confused about who determines what is, and what is not, a parliamentary body in the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly. 
A few inquiries have shed some light on the matter.

The House of Assembly Act, which clearly gives the legislature the power to establish the rules in the house, is not the determining legislation when it comes to deciding what a caucus is.

That changed in the aftermath of the spending scandal with Chief Justice Derek Green's review and recommendations for changes to the administration of the House of Assembly. 

The House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act, which was passed unanimously by the House of Assembly in 2007 defines a caucus this way: (d)  "caucus" means a group of 2 or more members who belong to the same registered political party.  

I am told that since the legislature voted unanimously for the legislation, the previous definition of what determined a caucus/parliamentary body in the house no longer applies.

Speaker Paddy McNicholas had ruled in the 1980's that a party needed to elect at least three members to the House of Assembly to enjoy party status. That rule, I am told was superseded by the  House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act.


So to be clear, at the risk of repeating myself, the premier, nor the speaker, determines what constitutes a caucus in the House of Assembly -  that is determined by the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act which was supported unanimously by the legislature.  

My suggestion that the House of Assembly alone decides what is and is not a parliamentary body or a caucus is right. The members exercised  that right in voting unanimously to set the bar at two elected members of the same registered party. Registered parties are governed by the Elections Act .  

It still seems a little grey to me. I think the definition of a caucus for the purpose of administration found in the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act is much different than the House Of Assembly deciding what constitutes a parliamentary body. That power should rest solely with the legislature. Obviously I am splitting hairs but the financial administration of the legislature is different than the parliamentary functions of the legislature. 

The consensus is that a caucus and parliamentary body are one and the same. The Standing Orders are the rules of procedure in the House of Assembly. 

The Speaker, through the house, determines what privileges the third party or individual members can enjoy in the legislature. For example, how much time is allocated to the leader of the third party to ask questions in the house. 

The all-party house management committee determines the non legislated staffing and resources entitlement which can change through a vote of the majority.

The House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act  determines what renumeration caucus members receive for additional parliamentary roles they engage in:



The third party, I assume is considered a caucus. As such they are entitled to the same resources as any other caucus. 

The legislation clearly states what the minimum size of a caucus is and what renumeration members of a caucus are to receive for fulfilling caucus roles.

The spirit of the legislation was to ensure that all caucuses are treated fairly. It is arbitrary. It does not matter if you have a caucus of 30 or 2, the rules are the same. 

The renumeration is defined for every caucus leader, whip and chair. It is interesting that the term party whip is used instead of caucus whip. I thought there were no parties in the legislature, just parliamentary bodies.  Than again, the act states that a caucus is comprised of members of the same registered political party.

The situation that currently faces the third party, or NDP Caucus, is that they have just two members which means those members have to carry out all of the roles that need to be fulfilled by a caucus in the legislature. With those roles and responsibilities comes renumeration. 

The Liberals faced the same quandary (or richness of spoils depending on how one chooses to view it)  in 2007 when they were returned to legislature  as the Official Opposition with only three seats. 

The three members of caucus had to piggy back
all of the Official Opposition roles in the legislature, on top of their MHA responsibilities. 

In addition to the caucus whip and chair, someone had to accept and be remunerated as the chairperson of public accounts ($13, 517), deputy opposition house leader ($18,457) and opposition house leader ($27,033).  This was in addition to the leader of the oppositions salary of $54,072.

Than there is the benefits and staffing component afforded to each caucus by the House Management Committee  for research, communication and executive support. Those are not specifically identified in The House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act

The question facing the committee is, and perhaps the Members Compensation Review Committee,  does a small caucus really need the same level of resources as larger ones? Should a caucus of two be remunerated at the same level  as a caucus of ten or 30.  Is there a need to remunerate a whip and a caucus chair. 

It may seem a little hypocritical considering the Liberals seemed to have no issue with it when they were decimated down to three members.

Arguably, there is not nearly as much work involved whipping or chairing a caucus of 2 or 3 members as there is with 8 or 20. 

These issues might have flown under the radar in the past but with the current financial crisis every dollar counts and waste can simply not be tolerated.






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