The future of Jim Brownell

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“I have been absolutely blessed with a political career that this December fourth will be the twentieth anniversary of my political life (six at Queen’s Park and fourteen at the municipal level).”

So says Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry MPP Jim Brownell.

In the midst of the controversy that surrounds the provincial Liberal government recently, Jim Brownell was named parliamentary assistant in a new portfolio and if you read between the lines, that didn’t come without a little controversy as well or at least it appears so.

Brownell is now the parliament assistant (PA) to Consumer Services minister Ted McMeekin. Brownell has been the PA to the minister of Tourism and prior to that assisted the minister of Health and Long-Term Care. It appears to me that Brownell’s duties have gone from a high-profile ministry (that nobody wants to be a part of right now, I’m sure) to low-profile ministries. I don’t imagine too many people know the name Ted McMeekin as an MPP, let alone a minister in the McGuinty government.

The portfolio that Brownell is now working in deals basically with small businesses. Brownell says he has already been asked to chair a committee of small business with his co-chair being someone from outside Queen’s Park but in the business world. “You know, I think of an example in my own riding where a township (South Stormont) had a concern with regards to a (government) tower that had no dishes of any kind on the tower and they wanted to use part of the tower for their emergency response service for the fire department. I set up a meeting with Minister McMeekin and I think that’s going to happen. The township was having some problems going through the proper channels and I was at the right place at the right time,” said Brownell.

He says that’s what parliamentary assistants do: listen to the concerns from people and groups throughout the province and help to solve the problems by bringing them to the attention of the minister. “Working with small business, dealing with any pressures there might be. As you know there is a great big government bureaucracy here and we help get constituents through the hoops. I’ve done it for my own constituents as an MPP and it’s the same thing that’s expected when you work as a PA,” says Brownell.

Brownell says every month, the PAs and staffs of the various ministries along with some ministers get together informally and just chat without the spectre of Queen’s Park looming over them. He says it’s a great way to make contacts and to explain problems of your riding to those who may be able to help solve those problems.

But how Brownell got to the Consumer Services ministry from the Tourism ministry is one for conjecture. Brownell says when he was PA in the Tourism ministry he was “the eyes and ears of the St. Lawrence Parks Commission” at Queen’s Park. “As you know, this year I did speak out against an issue there (at the commission) and I don’t regret in any way of speaking out. I did it for my constituents. I am constituent man before I’m anything and they did not want to see the history of our community tainted or relegated to something else as was happening with the mediaeval festival (at the Upper Canada Village). I’m all for the festivals but to put it in an 1860 village just wasn’t right and I spoke out about a few other things,” said Brownell.

The background on the Upper Canada Village issue can be found in “Talkback” July 2nd issue this year.

I asked Brownell whatever happened to that issue and Brownell replied, “Well, look where I am now.” Then chuckled, “I suspected at the time that normally you don’t do that as an MPP and especially when it’s your own ministry. But I could not stand by. I have a long, long history of heritage, preservation and conservation. I was at a meeting at Upper Canada Village the week that everything hit the fan and at that meeting all eyes were on me. I knew deep down in my heart that I had to say something and that’s when I spoke out against the plan and I don’t regret it and you move on. I suspect that issue may have created reason for my change in ministries in my job as PA,” says Brownell.

Are you happy doing what you’re doing? “I couldn’t be happier. I’m a constituency man and I got in here to do the best I could for my constituents. You can have all these things that go on in the bureaucratic towers at Queen’s Park but I can tell you my greatest satisfaction is to have made the contacts that I’ve made in the various ministries so I could deliver back home,” said Brownell.

Then “Talkback” asked the inevitable question about his future. “Am I going to run again? It’s too early. I have no idea yet. You will be the first to hear John” (he said with a laugh), “and the community will know next summer. There are certainly things that pull at me wanting to get back home and certainly with two little granddaughters now, they’re tugging at Grandpa’s heart.”

Are they tugging hard enough? I guess we’ll find out next summer, but I’ll be the first to know. Just ask Jim!

I’m John Divinski.

Organizations: Consumer Services, Tourism ministry, Lawrence Parks Commission

Geographic location: Upper Canada Village

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