Wednesday, June 22, 2005

James' shadow cabinet continues moderate push

VICTORIA - Everybody got some sort of prize when Carole James announced her shadow cabinet this week, just like one of those elementary school track and field days where everyone leaves with a ribbon.
All 32 NDP MLAs got a post or position that gives them a role beyond the basic duties of an opposition backbencher.
That's an obviously smart thing to do. The NDP caucus is bigger than most people expected before the election, but still small enough that leaving out a handful of MLAs would sting.
But while everyone got jobs, James still put her stamp on the caucus by deciding who got the good jobs. And the message continued to be that the NDP is moderate, and has broken with its past.
So despite having two former health ministers to call on - Corky Evans and Mike Farnworth - James gave the main critic's job to David Cubberly, a rookie MLA from Saanich South. (Though a rookie with 12 years on municipal council and
seven years as an assistant to several cabinet ministers in the last NDP government.)
James also signalled a big emphasis on health. The Liberals eliminated junior minister positions for seniors' care and mental health and addictions. James made Cariboo South MLA Charlie Wyse critic for mental health, a natural fit given his work on mental health issues in the North. Katrine Conroy takes on seniors' health issues; she'll have lots of issues to raise given the Liberals' broken promises and missed deadlines on long-term care.Farnworth wasn't left out of the picture. He's House Leader, and will deal with
Liberal counterpart Mike de Jong on when and how things move through the legislature. It's an encouraging pairing; the two could deliver on both party leaders' claims they would like to see a more productive, positive atmosphere
in the House.
Evans ends up with energy and mines. That's an important post for his Kootenay region, where coal and coalbed methane development plans are sparking protests. But it's not a prime post.
There other early winners. Adrian Dix, the former Glen Clark strategist, is the children and families' ministry critic, a tough but important job. Jenny Kwan gets finance, facing off against Carole Taylor. Shane Simpson, a Vancouver rookie with experience in sustainability issues, gets environment.
John Horgan - another former NDP government staffer - gets education, and Scott Fraser, from Alberni-Qualicum, is the aboriginal affairs critic.
But not everyone fared so well. Yale-Lillooet MLA Harry Lali, a fervent Clark loyalist to the end, is critic for citizen services, a tiny part of Mike de Jong's labour ministry.
And some MLAs seem underemployed, like Powell River MLA Nicholas Simons, critic for tourism, sports and the arts, and Gregor Robertson, in advanced education.
James said she asked the MLAs to do written reports on their areas of interest, why they believed they were qualified to tackle those issues and the goals that should be set. She then interviewed them before naming the shadow cabinet.
Expect lots of changes in the line-up. James said the NDP caucus support staff - despite a much larger budget - is still small enough that she's expecting the critics to do effective research on their own.
And it's hard to predict which MLAs are going to emerge as effective critics, holding ministers to account in the legislature and getting the party's position across in the media. It takes a special set of skills to do the job
But the critics start with a couple of advantages. By the time the legislature resumes in September, they'll have a wide range of issues and problems to raise.
And they will be facing Liberal ministers who are just as green as they are. Only Children and Families Minister Stan Hagen and Income Assistance Minister Claude Richmond have face a real opposition. The rest are in for a new, and
challenging experience.
It's going to be a more interesting, and more effective, legislature.
Footnote: James disputed Gordon Campbell's claim that he had consulted with her on the choice of Bill Barisoff as Speaker; Campbell just gave her the news in a brief call 20 minutes before his cabinet announcement. But she noted she had
found Barisoff reasonable when they were both school trustees; he'll likely have NDP support when MLAs formerly elect the Speaker.

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