Today, provincial New Democrat leader Carole James announced her critic appointments. Those appointments were handed out to every caucus member but one: Victoria-Hillside MLA Rob Fleming, one half of the power couple that includes former party president and election platform co-chair Maura Parte. Instead, Mr. Fleming has been named public accounts committee chair designate. But what does the committee do and is chairing it a good thing for the young up-and-comer, who will also be responsible for the New Democrat's caucus committee on the economy?
In an interview with Public Eye, University of Victoria political science professor Norman Ruff explained the public accounts committee, "is the main instrument of the legislature to maintain financial accountability." And how does it do that? Well, once the auditor general has reviewed public accounts - the document detailing government's annual expenditures - it is sent to the committee. And when that happens, the committees "can chose to investigate matters arising from the accounts."
The committee is unique in that it is chaired by an opposition member. As chair, Mr. Fleming has the authority to call committee meetings and suggest committee members investigate certain matters. In the distant past, Professor Ruff says the committee "was used to embarrass government ministers by digging into their travelling habits. But, in modern times, the committee, like the office of the auditor general, has taken on a much broader policy perspective."
Said one senior New Democrat insider, "it's perfect for Rob's personality and background. He built his reputation at city hall not by being flamboyant but by having his nose to the grindstone. So I think, for him personally, this is a perfect fit for him. It allows him to go out and do good work without grandstanding. It's against his personality to grandstand. And being a pitbull or a frontbench critic is probably not as advantageous to him."
But that doesn't mean Mr. Fleming won't be making headlines. According to the insider, by calling for investigations, "he can certainly make government spending a public issue. And he can force Liberal committee members to vote to not investigate (those issues) - which is good politics."