Thursday, June 16, 2005

Cabinet signals a different Liberal government

VICTORIA - It's a different looking Liberal government today than it was four years ago - or even 24 hours ago.
Gordon Campbell's cabinet has lots of new faces, and new ministries.
People who weren't around four years ago - like Carole Taylor, the new finance minister, and Wally Oppal, the new attorney general - have moved into key jobs.
Ministries that were important four years ago - competition, science and enterprise, management services, sustainable resources, long-term care - have vanished.
And new ones have popped up. B.C. now once again has an environment ministry, with perennial bridesmaid Barry Penner at the helm. Colin Hansen heads up a new economic development ministry, with responsibility for cashing in on the booming Asia-Pacific markets and the Olympics. Campbell says Hansen's role in his new job will likely be more sweeping than it was in finance.
And the Liberals - the people who started their first term with a destructive referendum on First Nations' treaties - have now created a whole new ministry of aboriginal relations and reconciliation.
Campbell hopes to make better relations with First Nations - starting with a willingness to recognize the need for government-to-government talks - a critical part of the this term, and a cornerstone of economic progress.
It's good that organizations adapt to changing circumstances, and learn from mistakes. But it also means things are going to be confused in government for a while, as people try to figure out who they now work for.
One of Campbell's challenges this time around was to come up with a balanced cabinet, one that represented all British Columbians.
He faced some immediate problems, starting with the number of defeated LIberal candidates outside the Lower Mainland.
Regional balance did get a good boost with George Abbott's big promotion to health minister. The Salmon Arm MLA joked about emerging from his "cloak of obscurity," but he has a chance - as Campbell noted - to respond to concerns that health care has deteriorated most sharply in smaller centres under the Liberals. And he faces the big challenge of responding to the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that it is wrong for governments to ration care, causing suffering and even death as waits for treatment climb.
Tom Christensen's new role in aboriginal relations also gives the Okanagan region a prime seat at the cabinet table, and Richard Neufeld stays in energy and mines, supported by newly appointed Kootenay MLA Bill Bennett, who becomes the junior minister for mining.
But a lot of the big jobs - attorney general, finance, economic development, forests, labour, transportation - will be filled by ministers from the Lower Mainland.
Even forests will be taken on by Rich Coleman, who represents the Vancouver suburb of Langley. It's a big challenge for Coleman. Red-hot U.S. markets have helped disguise some of the fundamental problems facing B.C's forest sector; things are likely to become more challenging on his watch.
(Coleman's move creates a big opportunity for John Les, who takes over as solicitor general and picks up responsibility for gambling, alcohol sales and ICBC. It also heads off potential conflicts between Oppal and Coleman, who differ on many policing and justice issues.)
One area of welcome stability is children and families. Stan Hagen made it clear that he wanted to stay in the challenging ministry, and he got his wish. The often-troubled ministry needs his experience and commitment after a rough ride through much of the Liberals' first four years.
Regional balance isn't the only issue. The number of women in cabinet has dropped from nine to five, with only two - Taylor and new Education Minister Shirley Bond - in key posts.
The verdict overall?
It's much too soon to say, really, with too many unknown details.
But at first glance Campbell appears to have done a good job of building a solid cabinet out of the materials at hand.
Footnote: Campbell pledged some sort of action on electoral reform, but it's unclear what. He noted that the single-transferable-vote system got more support than any political party in B.C., but left vague his plans for addressing the public's desire for change. It would be on the agenda when he meets Carole James later this month, he said.


Anonymous said...

Bill Barisoff - late of WLAP - gets the Premier's nod as the next Speaker (pending a vote).

It seems Campbell doesn't care that Barisoff blatantly broke the law in his previous job... perhaps Campbell thinks his own "No Contest" plea applies to all ministers for all crimes?

Mmm... I wonder if Penner will go after Dayoff (of The Great Turtle Travesty fame) for the indignations Dayoff visited on the Environment of Grohman Narrows Provincial Park.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Campbell is bringing in a aboriginal affairs Ministry. It was his government that removed the previous ministry set up origionally by Vandezamn and improved by the Harcourt Government. At that time the government set up regional advisory Committees of third party interest groups , Treaty Advisory groups representing local governments.The RAC"S dissapeared when the New era gang showed up. The previous government had a stack of policy papers and they too sort of disappeared. Campbell is rediscovering the system that was in place. Don't lets forget he brought in a divisive referendum about treaties as well