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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 24 October 2013

Political Staff: A Diet of Worms

Political staff are meant to be neither seen nor heard, serving as mandarins for their employers.  Having said that, they seem to be making a lot of headlines these days.

Rob Ford's staff have regularly featured in Toronto news for using City property for football-related activities, for bad behaviour at GO stations and of course, for allegedly being involved in illegal activity.

There's also that Queen's Park staffer who was replaced by an unpaid intern, or the Toronto Councillor who advertized for an intern to do paid-staff level work.

Not to mention the scrutiny over staff email trails, which under Open Government will be much more easily accessed than political staff are used to.

And all this is barely scratching the surface.

Political staff are often on call 24 hours a day; in addition to needing to be mind readers, babysitters for their Members on behalf of Party Whips and somehow do their day-to-day tasks without having job descriptions or training, they also find themselves serving as personal assistants to the busy and sometimes discombobulated people that are their bosses.  They often end up neglecting personal relationships in the process; there's a reason most of them are either single or involved only with other political people.

Political staff can find themselves scheduling vacations, delivering laundry, watering plants, even babysitting the boss's kids.  These are all duties that go far and beyond what should reasonably be expected by an employee often making far less money than they deserve.  The best textbook for Political Staff (as there is no formal training material) is probably The Hollywood Assistant's Handbook.

Of course, the best political staff don't mind working the extra bit because A) they know that's the cost of working in politics or B) they believe in their Member and are willing to go the extra mile so that the boss has the free time to do the same thing in an outward-facing capacity.

There's no training for Political Staff, nor is there HR support, but the same holds true for Members of Parliament.  They are supposed to be representatives of the people, whatever that means, but also shills for the Party, fundraisers for the association, small business owners (their offices) and whatever other added committee or Parliamentary Secretary positions they may have.

As I have stated before to variously receptive audiences, there's a reason why there's such a flux between good Members as employers and bad ones, or value-add political staff vs. dead weight.  It's not so much about the people as it is about deficiencies in the system.

Cowan said he has not spoken to Brisson, the former aide, and that it is not his duty to seek her out.

She's just staff - what value are they, other than as tools of the elected/appointed people who actually represent partsian interests?  Despite the huge role staff play in shaping policy and influencing public opinion of the process, they are seen as peripheral; their support is equally given minimalist consideration by Parties and, often enough, by Members.  Which has lead to all these headlines in the first place.

I've said it before - I'll say it once again.  As backroom people increasingly come under the glare of public scrutiny, it's time for politics to start doing training and HR support right.  They can start doing so now, proactively, while attention is just beginning, or they can do it reactively, after the can of worms has already been opened.

The choice has already been put before them - it's up to the Political Parties themselves to follow through.  Whatever choice they make, the people are watching.

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