Monday, June 23, 2008

The good and the bad of the cabinet shuffle

It's always a bit weird writing about cabinet shuffles. In our system, where the premier or prime minister is king, even ministers don't have that much influence.
And I'm not sure many people could name more than a handful of the 22 cabinet ministers in the Liberal government.
But it does matter. And there are both welcome and worrying developments in the new cabinet unveiled by Premier Gordon Campbell this week.
Start with the good. Colin Hansen is back in finance after three years in economic development, while hanging on to responsibility for the Olympics. Economic development should have been a good job, but when the government is philosophically inclined to leave most decisions up to the private sector, there's not much to do..
Hansen shone in past stints as finance minister and health minister, where his command of the issues was almost freaky. Reporters would ask about obscure local issues in scrums and Hansen would offer informed, detailed and sensible responses.
And while he was obviously partisan, he was never abusive or foolish inside or outside the legislature. I usually left encounters glad he was the health minister. (I'm not so sure he always left glad I was a journalist.)
His credibility and intelligence should help in defending the carbon tax and - like his predecessor Carole Taylor - Hansen is unlikely to be easily bulldozed by the premier.
Then on to more one of those, I've got good and bad news stories. The good news is that Rich Coleman was moved out of the forests ministry, a change unlikely to be lamented by anyone in the sector.
The forest challenges are huge, and many are beyond government's control. But Coleman did more harm than good and appeared indifferent to mill closures and the loss of thousands of jobs. It was hard to see why the government even had a forest ministry, if it didn't want to take any real role. (Coleman did get the government to spend $15 million on an arena in his riding, with the argument if was a good way to showcase B.C. wood products.)
Pat Bell moves from agriculture to forests. It will be a big challenge, but at least as a Prince George MLA he has a connection with the industry and the people who depend on it. He's more likely to listen and try to develop positive ideas.
The bad news - or maybe just the question mark, to be kinder - is Coleman's new job, which looks a little like a ministry of things Rich would be interested in. He keeps housing, an area has shown some interest and accomplishment in. But he also gets welfare and job training and support for people with disabilities and gambling and liquor sales.
There's little in Coleman's record to inspire confidence in these areas, In fact, while John Les took the blame, Coleman was solicitor general while the Coroners Service went off the rails and lax enforcement undermined the security of both casino gambling and lottery ticket sales in the province. There aren't a lot of accomplishments to point to offset the stumbles.
Back to good news, I'm glad of the return of Kootenays MLA Bill Bennett to cabinet, this time as tourism, culture and arts minister, and the addition of Peace River MLA Blair Lekstrom as community development minister (although that's not much of a job, except for the pine beetle responsibilities that are cobbled on).
Both are smart, will speak their minds and stand up for thbeir constituents and are from outside the Lower Mainland. They will be valuable around the cabinet table.
The other additions, replacing the ministers who have decided not to run next year, are Mary Polak, Joan McIntyre and Iain Black.
I have no real idea how well they will do. Backbenchers on the government side are an enigmatic lot. Black championed the cause of keeping kids in car seats longer. Polak seemed nice.
And that's the shuffle.
Footnote: MLAs, after giving themselves a big raise, are paid $98,000; full cabinet ministers $147,000, more than 95 per cent of the people they represent. And the job brings a different work life. There are staffers to brief you and plan your day and help you look smart. You go to big meetings. It's seductive.


Anonymous said...

Colin Hansen, lauded by the media by as effective, knowledgeable, likeable… and also the only caucus member capable of handling the Finance post.

But doesn’t this say something?

When a premier has to turn to a former Finance minister, already shuffled out of the post in the past because apparently he wasn’t top-pick, isn’t this indicative of how shallow the talent pool is in this caucus?

Another point going in Hansen’s favour (to Campbell) is that he is so clean-cut and bland. Taylor was more popular than Campbell and if he was okay with that she’d still be around. Hansen has been Olympics minister (and still is) because as Campbell’s loyal little Kitsilano neighbour he’s not going to be stealing any attention from the boss. Nor will he as Finance minister.

Finally, if Taylor is cabinet’s “superstar” (as described in the media), why is Hansen being given so much more responsibility than she ever had?? He gets Finance and the Olympics! We’ve heard before that Campbell doesn’t work well with women and this is more evidence. Campbell is sending the message that the man replacing her will not only be able to do her job, but also handle the crucial Olympics responsibility as well.

Anonymous said...

Rich Coleman will be BC's most callous, cruel minister responsible for "welfare deadbeats" since Bill Vander Zalm.
I wouldn't object to the guy being in a portfolio like Small Business, but giving him "Social Development" gives a pretty strong indication of where this government is headed: Let's round up the homeless and send them to internment camps.

Anonymous said...

Another well written and thoughtful analysis. While Coleman may try to spin that he did not receive a demotion, it clearly is.

Social Development is an area that he is not going to be able to find any common ground with the many groups. He will become far more adversarial than we have seen from Claude Richmond.

Gazetteer said...

Insight much appreciated Paul.

However, one thing I have read little about, including here and in the TC's solid editorial, is the ideological balancing act Mr. Campbell appears to undertaking here in the run-up to next spring's election because, clearly, he has has elevated folks associated with the 'extremier' end of his coalition's spectrum (although, just as clearly, it doesn't look like the red meat faction got much real power to go with their perks and profile).


And I very much agree with the comments regarding Mr. Hansen. In fact, despite my own ideological world view, I would be very happy if this was a signal a possible successor to Mr. Campbell (although it's just as likely that it is being done for purely pragmatic reasons as pointed out by Anon-Above at the top of the thread).


Anonymous said...

Peace River MLA Blair Lekstrom was put into cabinet to shut him up... Period.

Think about it folks: The most independent MLA currently sitting in the legislature, the only soul on the government roles who is not afraid to speak his mind AND he represents a constituency that is rabid in its opposition to the Premiers Pet Project de jour - the Carbon Tax. How is gordo to deal with that?

Bribe the poor sod with an extra $1000/week of course!

As Vaughn Palmer wrote in today's [24JUNE08] Vancouver Sun: "His [Lekstrom] days of voting against the government are over, as he's now bound by the principles of cabinet confidentiality and solidarity."

Anonymous said...

I'm a cynic so would like to agree, but Lekstrom voting against the government has never hurt them before. In fact, it always looked good when Campbell gave his MLAs free votes - especially when Carole James refuses to do the same.

I think the main reason he was appointed is he's a great MLA and he'll make a great cabinet minister. Also, he's in a sensitive ministry -- it may not get the headlines but dealing with all the municipalities in BC isn't easy. It's especially important leading up to an election (with municipal elections in between).