No lo­cal con­stituency of­fice for John­son

Trin­ity-bay de Verde MHA de­fends decision to op­er­ate of­fice in St. John’s

The Compass - - SPORTS - BY BILL BOW­MAN

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.

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