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Thank You, Paul Wernick

Thank you, Paul Wernick, for having the courage to speak out.

The recent discussions triggered by Paul Wernick’s story about working conditions for staff on the Hill are long overdue. The working conditions that he described are accurate.

I was fortunate to have worked on the Hill in the 1980s, the 1990s and in the 2000s. Working conditions have changed over that span of years and not for the better. Pressure and demands on staffers have increased to unheard of levels, driven by a large part by new technologies and the demand for instant answers and a 24-hour news cycle.

Gone are the days when one would go to the Reading Room in Centre Block to search through newspapers looking for stories or to research an article. Today the staffer is looking through dozens of web sites on the internet and the information is no longer needed in hours or days- it is needed right at that moment. In the past it would often take 2-3 days for a story to get out there with sufficient force that a full-fledged counter attack was necessary. Today, a story appears on Twitter and its game over if you can’t reply in minutes. MPS, cabinet ministers, PMO and the OLO demand and expect instant answers. They expect every conceivable news outlet to be tracked IE no surprises. That puts immense pressure on limited numbers of staff who at the same time are also tasked with speech writing, setting up tours, attending committee meetings to help their MP, Question Period preparation and many more daily items that staff are charged with completing.

Add into that mix your job vulnerability. Job security does not exist. You are as secure as the last item you worked on. You can be let go at the whim of your boss and your place will be filled by some other eager staffer in the blink of an eye. Everyone working on the Hill knows that they are in a privileged position, they know they are doing a job that dozens of people want to do; and they know they must deliver top notch performance, day after day, or someone waiting in the wings will replace them.

I recall giving a speech in Montreal to a group which focused on what a typical day was like for a staffer in my position. For the 2 1/2 hours it took to get there and stand up to speak I turned off my Blackberry (that was one of the hardest things I have ever done). When at the podium, I handed it to someone in the front row and said turn it on- the buzz of incoming messages went on and on and on. Altogether 120 messages. Is it any wonder staff feel overwhelmed and in those days my Blackberry was never out of my hand?

When you went home or had a day off, your Blackberry went with you. When eating dinner, you were checking it, spending time with friends or family you were checking it. As a staffer you are on call 24 hrs. a day and I dare say a few of us have been lectured because your boss was writing a speech at 2 AM in the morning and you slept through their call. How many staff have had much needed vacations cancelled because “you are needed at the office”?

Staff survive because every few weeks the House allows MPs to head to their ridings. The volume of work for Hill staff drops and the riding staff take the brunt of the workload. The summer break also gives staff a chance to unwind a bit, but even then, the constant barrage of requests for information, answers, talking points, speech notes etc. continues- just at a slightly reduced pace.

There is no easy solution- staffing budgets are tight and with the media watching and commenting on how funds are spent, very few MPs will state publicly that they need a larger budget to hire more staff to meet modern day demands of the job. The same holds true for cabinet ministers, the Opposition Leaders Office and The Prime Minister’s Office.

Staff burn out is real, stress is real, mental health issues are real, and until the stories of the last week were written; I bet very few staff were even aware that systems were in place to help them. This is one area that a lot more internal publicity is needed.

Hill staff should thank that Paul Wernick for bringing this issue out of the corridors of power and into the open. As we go forward, the real test will be to see if MPs do something about it.




Good Grief-A personal Day!

Good grief! The Prime Minister is taking a personal day!

Let’s get real folks, is this the single most important thing that the Conservatives can find to attack the government and Prime Minister on when we are in the midst of a trade war, the city of Toronto is asking for help to look after refuges claimants and Canadian industries are worried about losing their competitive advantage!

Prime Ministers or even senior cabinet ministers rarely ever get a period of true time off. No matter where they go or what they do, staff are present or nearby, cell phones can reach them 24 hrs. a day and in the case of the Prime Minister, senior staff are watching over the shop.

Just because there are no meetings scheduled in an agenda, doesn’t mean a Prime Minister is taking a vacation day- and even if he was- those damn cell phones are always ringing.


Inquiring Minds Want To Know

According to the PMO the Prime Minister and his family enjoy the outdoors. This is a good thing. When you are faced with such a demanding and stressful job, giving your Prime Minister some down time in the outdoors is a good thing.

If we look at the latest NCC approved renovations for the Prime Minister’s summer residence at Harrington Lake; we see that he is trying hard to copy everyday middle-class Canadians and our standard of living.

Don’t we all wish we could afford a nice new sauna and not have to pay for its installation? I am sure our senior citizens would love to have one installed in their back yard or on their deck, especially if the installation costs were paid for by someone else.  Don’t you agree with the NCC that paying a mere $4300 was worth the cost?

And look at those middle-class patio umbrellas that the NCC were able to give the Prime Minister. They cost a lowly $1000 each. I suppose the NCC doesn’t mix and mingle with ordinary middle-class Canadians at their local Canadian Tire store, as there the most expensive ones were a whopping $499.

Every family needs a play structure for their children, mind you most can’t afford one. But in the true spirit of supporting the middle class the NCC bought one for the Prime Minister for only $7500. What a bargain! At your local Canadian Tire store, they sell for $599 for a combo swing set and play structure.

$28,000 for extra grooming of cross country trails for the PM really isn’t much when you consider that he is already surrounded by miles and miles of some of the best cross-country trails in the country and they already exist for his use in Gatineau Park. But what is an extra $28,000 when you live the middle-class lifestyle.

Every Prime Minister deserves a decent place to live in and this one is no different, but let’s keep in mind that it is the middle class taxpayer paying for it. The NCC should take note- how quickly do you think a reporter could find suppliers, electricians, landscaping companies etc. who could do the job for much less cost?

Inquiring minds want to know.






Keep It Simple

Keeping a government off-guard and on the defensive is one of the primary functions of an opposition party’s attack team. We usually see this take place in the daily Question Period.

The questions that need to be asked can most often be boiled down to three simple ones.

1. What did they know?

2. When did they know?

3. What did they do about it?

At both the provincial and federal level it is something for the Conservatives to keep in mind as we get closer to an election date.

If we look at the federal level, the Conservatives are still trying to keep the Atwal Affair alive. At this point in time not too many everyday Canadians care anymore, they made up their mind that Trudeau’s India trip was a disaster a long time ago, but inside the Queensway it’s still interesting stuff).

The questions boil down to- What was Trudeau told? When did Trudeau know? What did Trudeau do about it?

On how much will the Trudeau-McKenna carbon tax cost the Canadian economy?

What was Trudeau told? When did Trudeau know? What did Trudeau do about it?

On the summer job funding for anti-pipeline groups:

What was Trudeau told? When did Trudeau know? What did Trudeau do about it?

You can hammer a Prime Minister pretty good with those three simple questions. If Trudeau ducks and runs as one would expect him to do, you simply switch your target to the minister concerned.

Experience says that they can only run and hide for so long, before the Prime Minister or the minister loses their cool and says something they shouldn’t. That in turn will open up new possibilities and an opportunity to return to the issue once more.

Keep it simple.


Is History Repeating itself?

Back on January 1, 2016, I wrote a blog, part of which said to Conservatives to get over Justin Trudeau and the fact that he beat them. I mentioned that it takes time for a government to fall from grace.

Back then, who can forget all those media stories about how Trudeau would be unbeatable for the next eight years. Do you remember the stories around those who would replace Harper and why the big names might not run; as spending almost a decade in opposition was a long time? At that time, we did see some of the potential big-name candidates decide not to enter the Conservative leadership race.

I also reminded readers of the potential for the Liberals to become arrogant. We are seeing history repeat itself.

Whether you liked or disliked Pierre Trudeau when he was Prime Minister, Justin’s father had a pretty good run for a while, until he became so arrogant that he gave voters the now infamous “Salmon Arm Salute”.  The present Trudeau has gone from “sunny ways” to lecturing Canadians on what is good for them and his ministers are even worse. When a leader or a minister assumes they are always right and repeatedly ignores questions and stops listening to the people who elected them, a government is in trouble.  

Justin Trudeau is not in the same league as some of our recent Prime Ministers such as Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien or Stephen Harper. He is pretty much a light weight when compared to them, but he did win by promoting the policies and hopes that Canadians voters wanted to hear. It is now up to the Scheer Conservatives to listen to all Canadians; not just to the base and see if they can take advantage of Justin’s mistakes and arrogance.

When Donald Trump has a higher approval rating than Justin Trudeau; its an opportunity that is to good to miss.