‘War stories and other lies’
Email exchange sparks calls for greater clarity for role of premier’s chief of staff
Email exchanges between two former chiefs of staff to the premier have sparked calls for more clearly defined roles and responsibilities for the top non-elected political job in the province. The emails, released under freedom of information, detail conversations in 2012 between Chris LeClair and Allan Campbell.
Both served as chief of staff to former premier Robert Ghiz – LeClair from 2007 to 2011, then Campbell from 2011 until 2015.
At the time of the email exchanges, LeClair was working as a consultant and lobbyist with Policy Intel Inc. and was regularly emailing Campbell, asking to set up meetings to introduce Campbell to various business owners or to discuss business proposals being pitched to the province.
One of these pitches was from Rodd Resorts, which proposed to sell its cottages in Crowbush and Brudenell as well as build other residences on a pre-sell basis in an effort to pay down its debt to the province and improve its financial viability.
LeClair presented this proposal to Campbell in late May 2012. He also set up a meeting in August 2012 between Campbell and a business executive named Keith Laslop, whose background included working as a director for a London-based interactive gaming software developer.
In all the exchanges, Campbell readily made himself available for the meetings, planning them as part of his government duties. Other emails show the two men setting up telephone conversations. In one email, LeClair asked for an update on a matter, details of which were redacted, and Campbell responded by giving LeClair his Blackberry PIN. The emails were released through a freedom of information request by the Opposition Progressive Conservatives. Opposition MLA Steven Myers says he found one particular exchange especially concerning.
The subject line of the Nov. 13, 2012, email from LeClair to Campbell reads: “war stories and other lies.”
In it, LeClair offers to get together with Campbell to “trade some war stories.”
“The fact is there is no play book for the job of chief of staff,” LeClair writes.
“You make it up as you go along and you never really know what is right or wrong. I spent my first year 1 (sic) trying to figure it out.”
LeClair goes on to tell Campbell the job is “the most powerful non-elected position in the province,” and the job of chief of staff is “not named in any regulation, piece of legislation, organizational chart, cabinet note or any document.”
Myers says he was “flabbergasted” by this characterization of the position.
“Are they actually following a plan or a playbook or is it just guesswork? Because there is a lot of people’s lives on the line who are really reliant on government to help them,” he said.
“I think Islanders are going to be shocked to read this and to find there is really no playbook.” Myers is now calling for more defined roles and responsibilities for the premier’s chief of staff.
In response to a request for comment, a spokeswoman for the premier’s office said while she could not comment on the intent of emails between two former chiefs of staff from five years ago, she assured there are indeed checks and balances in place for the premier’s chief of staff.
“The role is subject to a number of accountability and transparency measures, like other senior officials, including: filing to the ethics and integrity commissioner, conflict-of-interest requirements, post-employment requirements, and detailed release of expenses. All of these were extended under the current government.”
She added the premier’s chief of staff is seen in most Canadian jurisdictions as an evolution of the traditional role of principal secretary.
“I’m sure Steven Myers knows that political offices have chiefs of staff – including his own caucus office.”
Myers noted the Opposition’s chief of staff is an office manager, not a powerful member of the premier’s office.
He says more accountability measures should be put in place for this position.
“Whatever that role is should be clearly outlined as every other role is in government, because if in fact it is the most powerful non-elected job in the province, there needs to be a different level of accountability than even the regular public service… to ensure there is some checks and balances in that role,” Myers said.