Through the U.S. media, many Canadians are getting to know Ron Klain.
As chief of staff to President Joe Biden, Klain regularly pops up on U.S. talk shows to educate Americans about the new administration's priorities.
Last night, he gave a lengthy interview to MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell, explaining how the new regime is tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.
He noted that Biden was elected to address four key issues, including COVID-19. The others are the climate crisis, advancing racial equality, and getting the economy on track.
In this interview, Klein also acknowledged that the U.S. needs to get tougher on China.
It was a refreshing and open discussion by one of the most influential people in America. Klain has his own White House chief of staff Twitter feed, enabling Americans to follow him on social media.
This level of openness to being interviewed in the media is not the norm for a political chief of staff in Canada. In our country, top political staffers tend to remain in the shadows.
How many Canadians even know the name of Justin Trudeau's chief of staff, Katie Telford?
In Canada, the norm is to trot cabinet ministers in front of the media to spout talking points, some of which come from the "centre"—i.e. the prime minister's office. In these instances, the cabinet ministers become the Charlie McCarthys to Telford's Edgar Bergen.
Even mayors have a chief of staff
The first time I noticed this term chief of staff in a municipal context came when Mike Magee adopted it in the office of former Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson.
I immediately found the term off-putting. First off, it implied that Magee was overseeing some vast organization when, in fact, the mayor's office is a fairly tiny cell of people.
Secondly, it was an American term, not normally used in Canadian politics. I should have guessed that it would foreshadow the growing Americanization of the upper ranks of Vancouver City Hall and centralization of power in the mayor's office under Robertson's watch.
Magee had his favourites in the media, with whom he would share his thoughts privately. But he didn't make a practice of speaking extemporaneously and on the record in broadcast interviews like Klain does.
Along similar lines, B.C. premier John Horgan's chief of staff, Geoff Meggs, also prefers to remain in the shadows. He likely wields more power than all but one or two cabinet ministers.
I even suspect that Meggs, a veteran political tactician, strongly influences who Horgan puts in his cabinet and which posts they occupy. He can probably veto nominations of potentially controversial candidates. And when Meggs speaks, I'm sure that most ministers listen closely to his every word.
But in his current role, Meggs never ventures openly into the media to share his thoughts about the future of the Site C dam, the government's response to the opioid crisis, or overall fiscal policy.
The same was true when Meggs was the de facto chief of staff to a former Vancouver mayor, Larry Campbell, from 2002 to 2005.
We also don't hear much in the media from Neil Monckton, who is Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart's chief of staff.
Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell's chief of staff, Martyn Brown, didn't ordinarily comment on the record in the media. However, that's changed dramatically after he left the government and started writing commentaries on Straight.com.
Klain is so unlike Trump's advisers
I suspect that Klain's approach is going to enhance confidence in the Biden administration.
For those of us who worry that Biden is on the edge of losing his marbles, it's reassuring to hear Klain's voice.
That's because Klain comes across well in interviews—like an honest broker in contrast to the liars, dissemblers, and bigots in the upper echelons of the former Trump administration.
Klain is like one of those smart and kindly professors, with an egg-shaped body and a Daddish hairstyle that sends a message he's more about substance than style.
He's the antithesis of pencil-thin, preening, thirty-something senior presidential advisers Stephen Miller and Jared Trump in the last administration.
The fact that Klain's wife launched an online platform to advance understanding of climate science reinforces his credibility with those alarmed by growing greenhouse-gas emissions.
Prime Minister Trudeau, Premier Horgan, and Mayor Stewart should pay attention to Ron Klain, who's reinventing the model for how a "chief of staff" should behave in 2021.
Nowadays, voters are demanding transparency and authenticity. Klain is delivering this—unlike the wizards of Oz blowing smoke from behind the curtains in Canadian politics.