Les Leyne: Answers to all ministers’ questions

Les Leyne mugshot genericSo you’ve been sworn in to cabinet, signed the book and now you’re a minister.

You’re probably a little anxious and uncertain about the role.

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Lucky for you, I’m here to help. Leyne is the name. I’m a registered political counsellor. I’ve helped dozens of newbie ministers through the years. They come back from Government House as awkward rookies, like puppies wearing “guide dog-in-training” vests. Enthusiastic and important-looking, but they don’t have a clue what they’re doing.

By rigorously following my comprehensive advice, though, in no time they develop that sophisticated cabinet sheen. They start acting all executivey and can deflect questions and do ribbon-cuttings with aplomb.

Here is the list of FAQs from new ministers, with answers to guide you on your way.

• “What’s that oath of confidentiality I just signed all about?”

Oh, that silly old thing. It’s just a guideline, really. Cabinet meetings are bursting with all kinds of good news that deserves to be shared, and reporters are happy to help. You can’t just blurt out everything, of course. That would be gauche. But in chats with trusted reporters, it’s perfectly OK to share general themes, dissenting views, threats made and any expletives used. It’s all about being open and transparent.

• “When do I get the answers for question period?”

You still can’t use your phone, so you have to use a primitive analog notebook full of cross-tabulated references. Or just wing it. Nobody expects an answer. They’d be shaken and upset if you gave one. If the Liberals cold-cock you with something, just stand up and start talking. “Everywhere I go across this great land … good family-supporting jobs … Canada’s westernmost province … children are our most precious resource … ”

Talk enough to take two minutes off the clock and sit down.

• “I’ve never had an entourage before. How do I manage it?”

There was an MLA years ago who made cabinet. His buddy wanted to drop by and say hi. First he had to make an appointment, which was annoying. Then when he showed up, the new minister had his deputy and four aides arrayed before him, as a show of force.

That’s what we call “overkill.” The buddy was disgusted, and became an ex-buddy.

You want the entourage to be visible, because it denotes power. But discreetly in the background. The premier’s entourage includes two RCMP officers. Yours does not. If you notice plainclothes RCMP officers in your entourage, you’re doing it wrong.

• “I noticed the backbenchers were slow-clapping me when I got back to caucus after the swearing-in. Is that a good thing?”

There is no more delicate and uncertain political relationship than that between a newly elevated minister and the colleagues who weren’t elevated and are correspondingly now depressed. They want you to succeed and thrive, but at the same time they find you intensely annoying.

Whenever you’re talking with them, stress how much pressure you’re under, how bleak and empty your life has become. It will cheer them up.

• “The binder my deputy gave me is all dog-eared, with handwritten notes and names crossed out. It looks like it’s from the 1990s. What should I do?”

There might be some unfinished business from that era that needs tidying up. Conversely, transition is a confusing time, mix-ups are possible.

Double-check any references to “Premier Clark” because there were two of them, and they were completely different. If you see anything with the words “fast ferries” in it, shred it.

• “Are there any shows I can watch to prepare me for this?”

One previous minister went out and rented every season of Yes Minister and found it illuminating. (“If you’re going to do this damn silly thing, don’t do it in this damn silly way.”) Veep is also useful. (“I’m going to get back to the White House. God, I love saying that!”)

• “Are there any phrases I should avoid in media interviews?”

Yes. Never say: “I don’t give a damn what the Greens think.” And never use: “What the premier meant to say. … ”

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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