Political staffers invited to support Andrew Furey campaign during daytime shifts
Premier's office says campaigning has to take place outside normal working hours
A Liberal cabinet minister's assistant has invited 11 other ministerial aides to work on Liberal leadership candidate Andrew Furey's campaign, with suggestions that they make calls during normal working hours.
Monday marks the relaunch of a Liberal leadership campaign that was suspended March 23 during the height of the COVID-19 crisis. Liberals will choose between surgeon Furey and career public servant John Abbott on Aug. 3, with the winner succeeding Dwight Ball as premier.
CBC News has obtained an email sent by Eilanda Anderson, executive assistant to Transportation and Works Minister Steve Crocker, a key organizer of the Furey campaign.
The email — sent from a non-government account to other private email addresses — was sent June 1 under the subject line "Phone Calls — Furey Campaign 2020."
"Now that the campaign is officially back-on and will be beginning again on June 8th, I wanted to reach out to see who would be interested in making phone calls from June 8 - 28th," Anderson said in the email.
The appeal was sent to executive or constituency assistants of 10 out of 11 cabinet ministers.
The email speaks to the institutional advantage that Furey appears to have over Abbott. When Furey officially launched his campaign March 3 at a St. John's hotel, most members of the provincial cabinet made a point of standing near him.
Anderson's email reminds fellow staffers that the campaign will be "fully virtual," rather than a traditional campaign, "so you guys can either make phone calls from our call centre or make calls from home."
When asked about the issue during an interview with CBC News on Monday, Furey said he didn't know about the email, but noted it was sent at 12:04 p.m. and via a non-government email address.
"I think she was well intentioned in doing so, but I want to make sure everybody understands. I've messaged my team to ensure that nobody, in government, or any other workplace, is using worktime hours to volunteer on my campaign," Furey said.
Restrictions on numbers at call centre
The Furey call centre will be restricted to four callers at any one time to maintain adequate physical distancing.
The email asks Liberal staffers to indicate which time slots they would like to work the phones for Furey, and concludes with a rallying cry: "We need all hands on deck. :)"
The e-mail makes "volunteering" during normal working hours an option by offering time slots between 10 a.m. to 12 noon, or from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Finance department guidelines indicate a regular working day for government employees can fall any time between 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Anderson's email also includes an option of campaigning between 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., which, unlike the first two options, would be outside government guidelines.
When CBC News asked about the appropriateness of his executive assistant's request, Crocker said, "As an executive assistant, political staffers are allowed to work on campaigns during their personal time, outside of working hours."
Executive assistants earn salaries in the range of $70,000 to $90,000, while constituency assistants make about $40,000.
Abbott, who is competing against Furey for the leadership, said the organized email campaign by ministerial aides is "wrong."
"it's unfair …Those people are hired to work with their ministers, their MHAs, on behalf of the people in the province and the government. They're not paid to do political partisan activity," he said at a campaign event Monday, which marked the restart of campaigning.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Ches Crosbie said Monday the email suggests an internal bias towards Furey and that isn't fair to his opponent, and a time when the pandemic and the economy should be the focus.
"We're still in it, and we're still in a state of emergency, so it's diverting attention and resources that the government has in scarce supply, from that to something else — something partisan and political," Crosbie told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.
Premier says work should be off-hours
CBC News contacted Michael King, executive director of the provincial Liberal party, to ask whether the party condones invitations of political staffers to work on either campaign while they are being paid by the government.
"The party concerns itself with activities of the campaign insofar as it is relevant to the party's constitution and rules governing the campaign," King said in an email.
"As far as the party is concerned, candidates are free to organize their campaign. The party has no role and therefore has no comment in relation to government's human resource policies."
Technically, executive assistants to cabinet ministers are appointed "at the pleasure of the premier," although a cabinet minister is normally allowed to hire their choice for the role.
In a statement to CBC News, the premier's office said political support staff, "which includes executive assistants to ministers, are permitted to volunteer on a campaign or with any community organization, as long as it's on their own time outside of working hours."