Thursday, May 26, 2005

Cabinet choices set the tone for next four years

VICTORIA - It's not easy picking a cabinet.
In the real world, if you need a grocery clerk, or political columnist, you put an ad in the paper and pick the applicant who will do the best job. It's still difficult, but at least you're fishing in a deep pool.
Gordon Campbell's choices are way more complex, and he doesn't get to advertise. If Campbell decides to stay with 27 ministers, he'll be offering cabinet posts to more than half of the 45 elected MLAs. And he'll know that a big chunk of the 18 people left out will be hurt, mad, and maybe vengeful.
The premier can't even pick the people he thinks will do the best job. The cabinet has to be balanced - by region, gender, first language, ideology.
That's not a bad thing. We want representative governments, and who knows if the premier is so great at guessing who will turn out to be an effective minister.
Still, the need for balance restricts Campbell. The last Liberal cabinet had nine women ministers, about one-third of the total. If Campbell wants to match it he will have to appoint nine of the 10 Liberal women elected, with limited attention to experience or potential.
The need for regional balance is just as restrictive. The Liberals' Kootenay caucus had four members, with two in cabinet. Only Bill Bennett survived the election, so he's guaranteed a cabinet spot - maybe as resorts' minister. (A good thing, especially because Bennett could be an aggressive defender of the interests of B.C.'s smaller communities.) Dennis MacKay  - a low-profile MLA - might slip into cabinet as a Liberal survivor in the northwest.
Campbell's challenge includes leap-frogging the star candidates - Wally Oppal, Carole Taylor - over other MLAs. Oppal is an odds-on choice for attorney general, a job which will make the small 'l' liberal Oppal an odd partner with top cop Rich Coleman. Taylor could end up in any one of several ministries.
Some ministers should stay put. Stan Hagen wants to stay in children and families, and the ministry needs both his experience and some stability. It makes sense to leave the very competent Colin Hansen in finance.
Things get trickier in health and education, and most prospective solutions reinforce the rising star of Tom Christensen, currently the education minister. Christensen could stay put, replace Shirley Bond in health or even become attorney general if Campbell chooses.
That still leaves many slots to fill. John van Dongen and Mike de Jong are both likely due for a change after four years in the same ministry. (Van Dongen has become a symbol of Liberal difficulties in managing the aquaculture file.) But replacements will be difficult to find, especially after the defeat of junior forest minister Roger Harris.
Graham Bruce's defeat leaves Campbell without a labour minister - and more significantly, without a House leader. Kamloops MLA Claude Richmond doesn't want to be Speaker any more. Both jobs are important in setting the tone for the new legislature - confrontational or co-operative - and protecting the Liberals' interests.
And there's always the chance that Campbell could opt for bolder change. A majority of British Columbians voted for parties that promised to bring back the environment ministry. Why not do what the people want, and name a senior minister to the post to establish more credibility on the environment front? Other ministries could be restructured, perhaps giving Barry Penner a role in energy policy.
Campbell will probably announce his cabinet around June 8. His choices will signal what kind of government British Columbians can expect for the next four years, and what the Liberals have learned from this election.
And Carole James will unveil her shadow cabinet a few days later, a signal of her direction. James says she has taken the NDP toward the centre; her appointments to key critic jobs will tell the tale.
The 2009 campaign starts in the next two weeks.
Footnote: Eight cabinet ministers went down to defeat, leaving Campbell lots of room for newcomers. But not enough, probably. It will sting to be part of the minority left out of cabinet. James  faces the same issues in deciding on the roles for Glen Clark uber-loyalist Harry Lali and others of the old guard.


Krispy said...

Interesting musing on Campbell's cabinet choices, Paul. However, if he were honest with the people of the province, he would appoint the real people who are responsible for establishing BC Liberal government policy. This would mean going outside of the caucus, but there is precedent both in BC and Ottawa for such a move (remember Vander Zalm appointing himself Finance Minister, before winning a seat in the legislature? The federal Libs also appointed private citizens from Quebec to cabinet).

In an uncharacteristic burst of honesty, Campbell should appoint the CEO of Wayerhauser as Forests Minister - the forest industry, which has contributed millions to BC Liberal coffers in the past four years, pulls the strings behind the scenes in any event.

The Health portfolio should go to the doctor who runs the False Creek surgical clinic - perhaps shared responsiblity with the Canadian CEO of Pfizer. The Campbell Liberals have made it very clear they will allow wholesale privatization of our health system, so why not just admit it, and hand it all over to their friends in big business?

As education minister, Campbell should appoint David Strangway. As the co-founder of a private so-called university, Strangway represents the way of the future in education. By doubling and tripling tuition fees at colleges and universities, Campbell has already ensured that 'private' universities are becoming financially competitive with our public insitutions. May as well call a spade a spade and privatize the whole kit 'n kaboodle.

Dare I continue?

Anonymous said...

krispy: Interesting concept yourself. At least Carole James doesn't have to go outside caucus to appoint her string pullers to critic posts - David Chudnovsky (BCTF), Harry Bains (IWA) and Leonard Krog (no initials necessary) are already in the legislature!

Anonymous said...

Krog's presence ensures that ambulance chasing trial lawyers will have a fullsome voice in the NDP caucus. Carole James is going to have her hands full with that bunch, be it Chudnovsky going on a neo-Marxist rant, or Adrian Dix following his old boss's lead and plotting to knife the leader.