BRIAN Pallister may be gone, but the person the now former premier appointed to the most influential position in Manitoba government is not.

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This article was published 2/9/2021 (261 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

BRIAN Pallister may be gone, but the person the now former premier appointed to the most influential position in Manitoba government is not.

David McLaughlin remains clerk of the executive council "for an indefinite period," according to his May 20, 2020, employment agreement. His appointment last year by a premier whose popularity later plummeted was seen as highly partisan, but that doesn’t mean he should soon follow Pallister out the door, one political expert says.

"The interim premier and the incoming new premier would be smart to ask him to stay on until the premiers’ conference is held (Oct. 5-7 in Winnipeg) and perhaps until the agenda for the fall session is finalized," Paul Thomas said Wednesday.

"McLaughlin is an intelligent, responsible individual who will likely see the need for some continuity at the centre of government during what will be a turbulent period," said the professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba.

"Knowing him a little, I suspect that he might offer his resignation but would be prepared to stay on during the transition."

McLaughlin, whose family is in Ottawa, commutes every few weeks to Manitoba. When he’s here, he works 16-hour days, according to Thomas, "and he is not paid a fortune, given the scope of his responsibilities."

McLaughlin’s basic annual salary is $177,026, plus an extra $30,000 a year in "special recognition pay" for performing the functions of clerk of the executive council and secretary to cabinet.

Whoever the Progressive Conservative party chooses Oct. 30 to replace caretaker Premier Kelvin Goertzen may want to appoint their own clerk, Thomas said.

"If we are talking about Heather Stefanson as the incoming premier, given her criticism of some of (Pallister’s) policy decisions and implicitly of his decision-making style, I think that she will want to have her own choice in the role of clerk."

In an interview Wednesday, Stefanson was noncommittal about such a scenario.

"Stay tuned," she said.

Choosing a clerk who is a member of the new premier’s team could be "risky," Thomas said.

"Rushing to install a close confidant would be risky in governing and political terms... Using a partisan clerk can provide a basis for greater trust and confidence in the crucial relationship with the premier."

Most Manitobans don’t know who occupies the position of clerk or their qualifications to do a good job. While clerks with partisan backgrounds are more likely to attract media attention and opposition criticism, Thomas said.

McLaughlin, who was Pallister’s campaign manager in the 2016 and 2019 provincial elections, before being appointed Manitoba’s chief bureaucrat in 2020, made headlines in December. He travelled out of province to see family in Ottawa and returned without being required to self-isolate for COVID-19 — at a time when the premier, cabinet and public health officials were pleading with Manitobans to avoid travel and stay home.

"Career public servants in the job try to avoid the political spotlight," Thomas said.

The clerk is the premier’s deputy minister, is in the room for all cabinet meetings and heads the public service.

"Holding all three jobs and being in a strategic location at the centre of the decision-making process means that he is potentially highly influential, both on matters of substance and process. His influence depends on the premier being willing to listen, and on the perception of others within government that he speaks for the premier," Thomas said.

McLaughlin did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.