No local constituency office for Johnson
Trinity-bay de Verde MHA defends decision to operate office in St. John’s
Trinity-bay de Verde MHA Charlene Johnson does not maintain a constituency office in her district. She is among 22 provincial MHAS who have opted to keep their offices at Confederation Building or one of the other government buildings in St. John’s. The remaining 26 members have offices in their districts.
But aside from her opponents in the last provincial general election, Johnson says none of her constituents have ever tried to make an issue of having to travel to the capital city to see her on a constituency matter.
Quite often they don’t have to travel to the city to see her — they can do so on Fridays when she visits the district or on weekends when she visits her home in Gull Island on the north shore of Conception Bay.
After a busy week of cabinet, committee and caucus meetings, Johnson reserves her Fridays to spend in the district, often accompanied by her constituency assistant, Crystal Hill.
“If people wanna meet with us, we set up meetings for Fridays.”
Johnson recalls only hearing from one constituent on the constituency office issue in the more than eight years she’s served as MHA for the district. And that was also during the last election campaign.
“Even the person who raised it with me was raising it in a more curious manner, not complaining,” Johnson told The Compass.
The MHA has maintained her constituency office in St. John’s since 2003, when she became the youngest woman ever elected to the province’s House of Assembly.
Offices in districts
Of the five MHAS who represent districts in the Trinity-conception region, only Johnson and neighbouring Bellevue MHA Calvin Peach have their constituency offices in St. John’s.
Jerome Kennedy (CarbonearHarbour Grace), Glenn Littlejohn (Port-de-grave) and Tom Hedderson (Harbour Main) all maintain constituency offices in their districts.
Under the Members’ Resources and Allowance Rules, MHAS are encouraged to try and find office space in a provincial government building, such as Confederation Building, whenever possible.
When such space isn’t available, members are allowed to spend up to $7,000 a year to rent or lease office space — a maximum of $583 a month, HST included.
However, according to the rules, “the Speaker of the House may, on application in writing by a member, authorize that member to exceed his or her maximum constituency office accommodation allowance where the speaker determines suitable accommodation cannot be obtained at a cost equal to or less than the allowed maximum.”
For example, Carbonear- Harbour Grace MHA Jerome Kennedy pays $14,900 for constituency office space leased in Carbonear, twice the annual limit. Kennedy’s allowance was one of 15 approved by the Speaker where the cost of leased office space exceeded $7,000 since the Commission first met in 2007.
Office space leased in Holyrood by veteran Harbour Main MHA Tom Hederson is slightly over the limit at $8,964, while Glen Little- john, the rookie MHA for Port de Grave, pays $10,285 for his constituency digs in Bay Roberts.
Charlene Johnson, who is also the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, maintains her constituency office in the Natural Resources Building on Elizabeth Avenue, while Calvin Peach has his office at the Confederation Building.
Of the 16 MHAS who rent office space, Burin-placentia West MHA Clyde Jackman comes away the cheapest at $3,000 for space leased in Burin, while Trinity North MHA Ross Wiseman’s $ 18,080 office space in Clarenville is almost three times the limit.
Chief Justice Derek Green recommended the $7,000 annual cap for office rent in his report following the House of Assembly constituency spending scandal.
Some $ 336,000 is the total amount earmarked for office space if all 48 MHAS were leasing offices at their maximum rental allowances. But since only 16 are paying rent, only $183,534 is being spent — $152,446 less then the total amount allowed.
Not broken, why fix?
Meanwhile, Charlene Johnson said she wouldn’t rule out the possibility of opening an office in the district at some point in the future. “But right now it (office in the city) seems to work for everybody. So if it isn’t broken, why fix it?”
Instead of hearing complaints about the absence of a constituency office in the district, Johnson recalls, “(it was) quite the contrary.”
Describing her constituency assistant as the “front line,” Johnson said, “everybody in the district is familiar with Crystal.
— Trinity-bay- de-verde MHA, Charlene Johnson Trinity-bay de Verde MHA Charlene Johnson has no problem defending her decision not to establish a constituency office in the district.