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EDITORIAL: Job duties too vague?

Chris LeClair, the author of the report.
Chris LeClair, the author of the report.

Chief of staff function a work in progress from government to government

The chief of staff to the premier of Prince Edward Island is suddenly a major concern for the Official Opposition. A Tory MLA is suggesting the job is too loosely defined for his liking.

The concern comes after the Opposition sifted through a number of email exchanges between two former chiefs of staff from five years ago. They were obtained under a Freedom of Information request, and based on the time period, are the likely result of a fishing expedition - seeking details from a critical time involving the e-gaming, financial platform - and to a lesser extent, PNP files.

At this point at least, it seem little was gleaned on those three intriguing topics. The secondary prize for the Opposition appears to be the rather ill-defined role of chief of staff.

Five years ago, Chris LeClair had just left his job as chief of staff to former premier Robert Ghiz and Allan Campbell was taking over the position. The two were regularly exchanging emails – Mr. Campbell seeking advice and direction about his new job and Mr. LeClair was seeking the same access and connections inside the premier’s office that he recently enjoyed.

The chitchat between the two provided some titillating reading for the Opposition who poured over the views, duties and musings of the chiefs of staff - the most important non-political job in the province. It was clear from those emails that the role of chief of staff was a work in progress. They suggest that Mr. Ghiz was a strong believer in delegating work and empowering his staff.

We’re not sure how Mr. Ghiz’s predecessor operated his office. Perhaps the Opposition might provide the mandate letter from the Pat Binns' era for the chief of staff, if only to provide some helpful guidelines for the future.

While the job in 2012 might have been an evolving project, it’s doubtful the same applies today under Premier Wade MacLauchlan and his chief of staff Robert Vessey. Both appear to be very hands on, very involved in all aspects of government and very well informed on major files and problems. Each is acutely aware of his role.

So the duties of each chief of staff likely vary considerably – depending on the person holding that office and on the person sitting in the premier’s chair. And since emails are now part of the essential public record, staffers are learning to keep exchanges on topic. It might make for boring reading but it would also assure the Opposition that the chief of staff is earning his or her keep.

The emails do raise concerns. The fact that Mr. LeClair was immediately working as a consultant and lobbying the premier’s office, shows the necessity for lobbyist and conflict of interest legislation.

And perhaps the premier of the day should go a step further. A detailed mandate letter to the chief of staff at the start of each term in office would assure everyone that we are getting solid bang for our buck.

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