On Mike Murphy

I only met him a couple of times – he invited me to lunch one time to talk about economic development when he was an opposition MLA.  I think he was certainly one of the Liberals strongest Cabinet ministers and I suspect he will be missed.

I ran into a couple of business leaders yesterday on the street and they both talked about the importance of having a strong and capable Cabinet.   One suggested we cut the number of MLAs to 30 and pay them a decent wage.  I know there are people that complain that MLAs make too much money but they make far less than most lawyers, doctors and even senior civil servants. 

In the USofA, it’s mostly millionaires that go into politics.  I read that over 80% of Senators are millionaires.  That takes the money issue off the table.  However, in New Brunswick the ‘millionaires’ aren’t running for politics so I think we need to offer a payscale that would attract top talent.  We are asking them to run a $7 billion/year organization with something like 40,000 direct and indirect employees.

18 thoughts on “On Mike Murphy

  1. Great post. I agree that something has to be done to attract experienced and capable people to politics. I am not sure money is the solution. Some would argue money is the problem. Money attracts the people we get now; for many it is the best job they are likely to ever have.

    An aspect that may attract better quality candidates is the public attitude. Recently the general public has been lulled into low expectations from government. If they can get a pot hole fixed or a school bus route modified, that is “getting the job done”.

    As things decline, the public will start to demand more. For example, they will eventually be demanding sound ED strategies and electing someone who can deliver them. Maybe that will bring out better candidates.

    There’s an opening in Moncton; perhaps a prominent ED consultant will come forward.

  2. Do the politicians really run things or is it the bureaucracy behind them and aren’t they making decent wages ($100+k /yr)? And do they not get a pretty decent pension if they manage to stay in for a couple of terms? I am all for paying people what they are worth but have a hard time with paying top dollar and a great pension to some that cruise through on the shirt-tails of others because their party is in power for two terms.

  3. I would agree with this (even to the point of saying it’s not necessary to cut the number of MLAs). It should not be necessary to be wealthy in order to serve as a public official.

    But there is the other side of that, the work needed to obtain the office in the first place. People who are wealthy have a considerable advantage because they can take the time, hire staff, pay for promotion, and more. It would be desirable to see a more equitable means of attaining office, and not simply holding it.

  4. Tom, it’s a complex issue but from experience I can tell you that we want strong, capable people at the Cabinet table because while the bureacracy does the work they get their direction from elected officials. When the elected officials are not strong, they rely on their ‘advisors’ and that brings up a whole set of other challenges.

  5. Dude, don’t mix apples and oranges-this is not the states. I’ve stated numerous times that the state of Maine has four times the number of representatives, and they are paid LESS than NB spends on less than 60.
    Sorry to bring up the word ‘business interests’, but its always that side of the fence that wants fewer representatives and is willing to pay them more.
    At the state level, most states are quite cheap, and down in Maine they also have electoral financing laws making it easier for independants, not to mention the fact that party affiliation doesn’t mean nearly what it means here (Governors are not really ‘leaders’ of their caucus).
    And unlike NB, they also have term limits and have NO trouble finding people to run for office. Compare that with NB and it SHOULD be obvious that its not the pay thats the problem.
    And I hate to be devils advocate, but people have a largely over inflated view of the work their politicians do-it CERTAINLY is not as important or time consuming as a doctor or lawyer (that’s just nuts).
    Almost half those sitting in the house are largely functionless, and its often argued that even backbenchers have little input. And in NB its becoming clear as cabinet ministers bolt that MOST policy initiatives come from ONE person. It’s been found at many levels of government in Canada that representatives don’t even READ much of what they vote for.

    Anybody that DOESN”T think this resignation is about the NBPower deal is simply, sorry, can’t think of another word, crazy. This isn’t about how much a minister earns (which is PLENTY), or spending time with family (they’ve just had over a month off-as a lawyer he won’t have that luxury).

    One fair deal that every politician should agree with is that their constituents should get the same pension they do, which is certainly NOT the deal in Canada. By the way, again, Frank McKenna certainly wouldn’t have the resources he has today if he hadn’t been Premier, and Bernard Lord left office a millionaire as well, so that argument simply doesn’t wash.

    Again: Maine-over 400 representatives, paid for time they actually work, term limits, and TONS of people lining up for their civic duty.

    NB: Spends MORE to pay fewer than 60 who only ‘work’ half the year (don’t feed me the crap about meeting constituents, I’ve TRIED to meet with MLA’s before, its not easy getting past their staff, and if ‘work’ is defined as ‘having lunch’ with special interests (sorry dude, your the same as the rest of us:) then thats the weirdest idea of ‘work’ I’ve ever seen.

    That’s harsh, and somewhat inflated to combat the above views, in my opinion politicians should have neither the pay they recieve, nor the responsibilities that they have. Want to compare with someplace else, in Switzerland at the federal level they don’t even get AN OFFICE. If the millionaires at the federal level of the US is your model, the people who have botched up one of the most advanced economies in the history of the world, in the richest country and the only industrial one with no universal health coverage, all I can say is ‘Yikes’, good luck selling that.

  6. Rather than reducing the number of MLAs in order to pay them more in order to attract better candidates (an uncertain proposition at best), perhaps we should be looking at increasing the number of MLAs (by ten or so). I know this sounds heretical but having more MLAs will provide more opportunities for people to be elected, which is a basic prerequisite for Cabinet. Of course, it would also increase the representativeness of the Legislature and assist in balancing out the demographic changes that threaten the further erosion of rural representation.

    In any case, candidate recruitment is always a tricky issue. More than one “star” has failed to shine as brightly as hoped, just as many “flukes” turn out to be more politically adept as Ministers.

    Keep up the good work, David.


  7. @Anonymous
    Some would argue money is the problem. Money attracts the people we get now; for many it is the best job they are likely to ever have.

    Mike Murphy was a succesful ambulance chaser. His MLA/minister income is probably a quarter of what he used to make.

  8. I lean towards Mikel’s point of view of having more MLAs, but agree w/ David that we pay Cabinet ministers more. Perhaps we should treat MLA duties like Canadian Forces reserves, employer must keep your job open upon your return, etc. Combine part-time MLAs with full-time Cabinet ministers and Opposition critics. Perhaps then we could entice more representative slate of people into politics.

    I should also mention that Switzerland is highly decentralized, so its not surprising that Swiss federal politicians get few perks. I wonder if it is the same on the canton level.

  9. Stephen Downes :I would agree with this (even to the point of saying it’s not necessary to cut the number of MLAs). It should not be necessary to be wealthy in order to serve as a public official.
    But there is the other side of that, the work needed to obtain the office in the first place. People who are wealthy have a considerable advantage because they can take the time, hire staff, pay for promotion, and more. It would be desirable to see a more equitable means of attaining office, and not simply holding it.

    See the political disaster that is Micheal “Tanker” Malley of Miramichi. The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter (from the lips of Winston Churchill).

    The common man fascination is a romantic idea, but the reality of it is that an individual with power and clout is far more likely to bring forward change than another (albeit louder) voice in the crowd. When you have an individuals who takes a massive pay cut to slug it out for the province, there is a far greater chance that he is doing so as a means to better than province, not to get his grubby hands on a pension and shorter working hours. When Tanker was in office I had actually heard people saying that they’d “like to see him get re-elected so he can get his pension”. Those statements scare me to no end.

    I’m not saying that only the wealthy are worthy of representing the province, but financial success is a fairly accurate indicator that the individual is driven, and success in one’s own personal life will likely be followed by success in their future endeavours.

    Thsi rant has nothing to do with economic development, but we’ll never see strong industry brought into the province without strong leaders.

  10. A bunch of NBers spoke about this during the usual 501 at Hoops on friday. NB MLAs make worse dough then some of the doughhead staffers in Ottawa. Me [once] being one of them. 😉

  11. @Jon Doe
    I’m not saying that only the wealthy are worthy of representing the province,

    You pretty much say just that in your comment. We just watched the richest people in the world and their political enablers come within a few inches of flushing the entire Western financial system down the toilet. However, given that they’re “driven”, let’s just hand the keys to the Centennial Building over to them.

    As for Tanker Malley, and the wisdom of the common man, Tanker lost in 06 by about 21 points. I’d say the common man hit that one right on target.

  12. First, an ‘ambulance chaser’ in NB is NOT the same as the US. Civil lawsuits are not nearly as lucrative. As a cabinet minister sitting on committee’s Murphy would bring home close to 100 grand. It’s HIGHLY unlikely that as a lawyer he was making close to half a million. As a crown prosecutor he would make virtually the same salary, and he wouldn’t be getting nearly the time off.

    Second, the swiss aren’t nearly as decentralized as one would think. A good comparison to point out is that in Vermont and many other states counties have very different laws and even sales and other taxes. At the provincial level in Canada they have FAR more powers than at the cantonal level, however, much of that power is rarely exercised. But cantonal leaders are much like many american states, they are paid a stipend for how much work they actually do. They certainly dont’ get a ‘salary’ with pension because that is anathema to what is considered ‘public service’.

    At the municipal level its worth pointing out that many swiss areas essentially have bureaucrats who implement policy but have NO elected officials. Once a year the population meets to vote on policy. That’s very much like many places in the states. It is often claimed that a large population means this is impossible, todays technology means its EASILY possible.

    Graham certainly is a ‘strong leader’, we’ve seen no end of unpopular decisions that he has forced through. Frank McKenna was a ‘strong leader’, but has NB really progressed? I don’t know what ‘strong industry’ means, but industry goes to areas for many different reasons. The idea that we need dictators to get ‘strong industry’ scares ME to no end, far more than whether a guy gets a pension (and since he lost the election its clear the majority did not share that sentiment).

    Again, take a look at Switzerland and most scandinavian countries. They do not have ‘strong leaders’, so its completely wrong to say that democracy and the ‘common man fascination’ is a ‘romantic ideal’. That may be YOUR opinion, but its an opinion nonetheless, nothing more. Take a look at your grocery store and see all the swiss products, go to switzerland and check out their educational system and production legislation. All this in a country that doesn’t even have a President-it has SEVEN presidents, none of whom have any real power. Yet it is probably the most successful society on the planet-particularly given that it managed to stay functional while in the middle of two world wars.

    Financial success is not a measure of how ‘driven’ a person is. An Irving may have inherited a fortune with numerous banks to back him up, but that means nothing about how ‘driven’ they are. That is simply an elitist argument. There is ‘change’ and there are ‘changes’. It’s true that if you simply want a ‘leader’ to push through legislation YOU like, then obviously you will favour a political model that lets a political push through that legislation no matter what. There is no evidence that that is ‘successful’ and there is TONS of evidence that it is NOT successful.

    Again, this is not to harp on politicians, who may legitimately want to help their society. In a province where not a single politician would raise a hue or cry on the fact that roomers and boarders don’t even have BASIC human rights, I have a hard time giving the benefit of the doubt.

  13. The number of Irving sitting around waiting to inherit a fortune are few and far between. While some sons and nephews certainly fall ass backward into fortune, the vast majority of successful entrepreneurs and professionals are required to put in a tremendous amount of intellectual effort to continue to be successful. “Driven” doesn’t equate to being physically present at a workplace for long hours in the day, it requires one to invest long hours of intellectual horsepower into their activities. Farmers and garbage men may have the most physically demanding jobs on the planet, and they may work “harder” than anyone else, but I certainly don’t want my garbage man representing me in the legislature.

    Tanker is alive and well. Once again, the common man elected him as a city councilor and he continues to impede progress in the city of Miramichi. He’s the king of canteens and hockey rinks in a time where we need individuals with specialized skills and knowledge to move the city forward.

  14. No, the vast majority of successful entrepreneurs need only access to capital and HIRE smart people. That’s it.

    However, people always have a derogatory view of politicians they personally don’t like. Politicians need no specialized knowledge, in fact its virtually impossible for anybody to have the time to be a public policy expert AND do all the functions expected of them.

    But there’s that elitism, I’d personally MUCH rather have my garbageman represent me than some lawyer or professional politician. European parliaments have found that simply even having more women tends to make better functioning parliaments-meaning ones that don’t sit and scream and one another and actually have policies supported by their populations.

    Danny Williams is NOT a ‘leader’, he is being a representative, which is why he has such large support. Like I said, Graham is LEADING, it takes HUGE guts to stand up and push policies that may very well decimate his party. That takes serious balls, whether you like him or not, and whether you like his policies or not.

    VERY few politicians are being representatives, many are ‘leaders’, which tends to make them unpopular, because of course they lead because a certain minority constituency puts them their. Those who actually represent their constituents are usually the most popular amongst their population, but least amongst business leaders, because business and population often tend to have very different interests (not always, again, look at Norway).

    There is no such thing as the ‘common man’, there are simply ‘voters’. Just talk to some NDPers and you’ll be in good company in the view that ‘people just don’t know who to vote for’. A New Brunswicker, and elitist, said it best, “people will follow a ruthless dictator before they’ll follow an amiable backslapper. And keep in mind, lots of people LIKE hockey rinks and canteens, and why shouldn’t they? It would be interesting to read some suggestions here from the critics of what exactly ‘moving forward’ entails.

  15. Mikel, don’t get me wrong, I love hockey rinks and think that it would be great if every community in NB had state of the art facilities, but they aren’t the solution to unemployment and poverty reduction. For instance, I think it would be great if the fitness center that Tanker is suggesting magically appeared, but not if the city has to swallow the 20M investment. By moving ‘moving forward’ I’m referring to politicians turning their minds to progressive long term solutions for their communities, not by building the most impressive canteen in the country and having nobody to spend their money there. There is a building sitting in Miramichi that is supposed to be a museum of sorts, it’s brand new and very impressive looking, but it almost had to be closed because the city could no longer afford to keep it open. And why is that? It’s because the population in Miramichi has dropped significantly and the generally speaking, there aren’t enough people left with the money to spend at this facility. The politicians had a very nice ribbon cutting ceremony and some wonderful speeches about the hordes of people who would flock to see the wonderful history of the Miramichi would be a huge boost to the local economy. The unfortunate reality is that the provincial government has been forced to step in and pay the rent and keep the lights on.

    Conversely, a forward thinker like Jeff MacTavish, Miramichi’s economic development officer, has actually been instrumental in bringing a 70M dollar gasification plant to the city simply by making a handful of phone calls. He’s also one of the leaders of the “I am MIramichi” campaign, which is designed to lure businesses and people to the area. Meanwhile Tanker is misunderstanding much of what is said in council meetings, and dreaming of all of the pop and chips he’ll consume at Middle Island’s new million dollar canteen. Pop and chips, not solar panels or gasified garbage will be the way of the future in Miramichi. Be sure to wear your best metallic jumpsuit when you visit the futuristic Miramichi.

  16. Here is a simple definition of “moving forward”. Making improvements in our economy that create meaningful employment opportunities for our children.

    It is sad that if our children choose to stay in New Brunswick, they must sacrifice their career goals and find satisfaction working the hockey rink canteen.

  17. Don’t get ME wrong, I am certainly not arguing that community rinks ARE economic development. It is HIGHLY doubtful that a gasification plant was brought to the area simply with a few phone calls. Sorry, just don’t buy it. A politician should NOT be mixed up with an economic development officer, one’s job is to attract business, and good for them if they do, the others job is to represent a variety of constituents.

    NB’s problems are certainly beyond not enough ED officer’s making phone calls. If all these problems could go away if every town’s ED officer just made a couple of calls then this blog wouldn’t exist, and NB’s economy would not be in the position where successive generations go away to find jobs.

    Politician’s by and large represent their constituents, and of course at the local level its even more problematic than higher levels in many ways-most of the public doesn’t even bother VOTING locally, and in a textbook on canadian politics it was stated almost matter of factly that local politics in Canada is largely ‘run’ by developers, and that largely seems true.

    Leaders though need constituents. Nobody gets elected without a team and without votes. It takes more than a phone call to get infrastructure, it takes demand, and it takes the facilities, as well as the public policies-THOSE are legislators jobs. Its worthwhile to listen when an ED officer presents a report on what those should be so they can do their job, but we know what happens when it is too one sided. It’s an Irving run province, most people know damn well they are lucky to get a rink, let alone industry infrastructure for the next generation (much of that infrastructure, like LNG terminals, actually provide VERY little for the next generation, they don’t even provide gas for NBers and once construction was completed it only provides about 10-20 jobs).

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