Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Finding the key changes in the big shuffle
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - Five things you should know about the Liberals' cabinet shuffle.
First, good news on the economic front. The competition, science and enterprise ministry created by the Liberals after the election is gone, and minister Rick Thorpe demoted. The ministry has been a failure.
It's been replaced with a small business and economic development ministry, headed by Chilliwack backbencher John Les. He doesn't have a lot of business experience, but Les has impressed observers.
Mining and forestry also get a boost. Prince George's Pat Bell becomes junior minister for mining; Skeena's Roger Harris does the same for forestry operations. Good news for both industries, especially forestry. (And good news for Liberal candidates in the north and northwest, who can now point to more representation at the cabinet table.)
Second, be very worried about the ministry of children and families. The cabinet swearing-in was at Government House, where the Lieutenant-Governor lives. (Great views across to Washington, amazing gardens, pool, but kind of cold living quarters really.) The ballroom's silence was shattered by Hamish Clark, Christy Clark's two-year-old, shrieking 'mummy,' in the most horrified voice as she stood on the stage with the rest of the cabinet gang. Which shows that even a two-year-old recognizes that it's a bad thing when mom gets made minister of children and families, the most challenging job in government these days.
Clark got off to a poor start. The ministry is a mess. Former minister Gordon Hogg resigned last week; his deputy was fired. But the Liberals still want to transfer about 40 per cent of its operations - about $500 million - to a semi-independent authority June 1. An internal government report last month said the process was far behind schedule and warned that it was impossible to know if the reduced ministry budget would provide the needed services.
But Clark, minutes after being appointed, said the budget won't be changed and she wants to push ahead with the changes planned for June 1. It is a formula for disaster.
Third - and by way of contrast - watch how new Education Minister Tom Christensen handles the jump from the backbench to the second-largest ministry. It's a big vote of confidence for the Okanagan MLA, who impressed Campbell as the head of a Liberal education committee. Unlike Clark, Christensen said he plans to find out what's going on in the ministry before acting. Good idea.
Fourth, pay attention to how veteran Stan Hagen handles the mandatory welfare time limits which are to come into effect April 1. Murray Coell, the last human resources minister, has moved up to community women's and aboriginal services. Now Hagen has to deal with the fallout of the Liberals' secretive plan to become the first Canadian province to introduce arbitrary welfare time limits.
Fifth, watch how this whole cabinet comes together, and whether any of the new ministers makes the jump into the inner circle. Campbell added six ministers, dropped five and left barely one-third in their original jobs. (Although that one-third includes most of the inner circle and key posts.)
The new ministers are taking over with the plans and budgets already set by the people they replace, leaving them with little room to make changes or alter course. Some may chafe at the limits. Watch also whether ministers use the shuffle to duck questions on past problems by claiming it wasn't on their watch.
There are other areas to keep an eye on. Joyce Murray was bumped from environment - enviros thought she did too little, Liberal MLAs thought she did too much - and was replaced by Bill Barisoff, a minister with a profile so low he's almost been invisible. Kevin Falcon makes the jump to transportation, a major promotion the likable but untested Surrey MLA.
Campbell says this team will lead the party into the next election. They've got a lot of work to do.

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