Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New faces get big roles in big cabinet

Governing must be harder than it looks from the outside.
Back in 1996, then opposition leader Gordon Campbell said the New Democrat's 18-person cabinet was way too big - bloated, expensive and out of touch. The Liberal platform promised no more than 12 ministers in cabinet.
That was then. This week, Campbell appointed a 25-member cabinet (including himself). The Liberals only have 49 MLAs; more than half of them are now cabinet ministers. By the time various committee jobs and other posts are handed out, almost everyone should get a little recognition - and extra money.
There were no huge shocks, but some chaåçnges were significant.
Campbell dumped four ministers - Linda Reid, John van Dongen, Gordon Hogg and Joan McIntyre.
That made room for some new faces, including a couple of brand new MLAs thrust into high-profile jobs.
Kash Heed, the former West Vancouver police chief, steps in as solicitor general, responsible for crime, gambling enforcement, ICBC and the coroners. Given concerns about gang violence and RCMP accountability - and Heed's support for regional policing - it is a place he could shine.
Margaret MacDiarmid , another Vancouver rookie, gets education. But she's far from a neophyte. A doctor, MacDiarmid was the B.C. Medical Association president in 2006-7. That meant a lot of work with government. She still faces a tough challenge, as school districts cope with underfunding.
Steve Thomson, a highly respected newcomer from the Okanagan, gets agriculture and lands.
In total, there will be nine new faces around the cabinet table, including seven elected for the first time last month.
The biggest promotion - sort of - went to Langley's Mary Polak, who went from health living to the ministry of children and families. Polak has been typecast, inaccurately, as a hardcore social conservative. But she still faces an immense challenge dealing with a ministry that continues to struggle and faces big money problems. Its budget is projected to grow at less than one per cent a year, as demand rises.
The other minister facing a huge challenge is Kevin Falcon, who goes from transportation to health. Falcon is underestimated. He's not one of cabinet's deep thinkers, but he has shown an ability to set a goal and plow toward it. But health, like children and families, faces big budget problems - health authorities have are looking for ways to comply with a provincial edict to help cut $320 million in spending. And Falcon's partisan approach could backfire when the issue becomes waits for hip replacement or long-term care.
George Abbott, his predecessor in health, gets aboriginal affairs. The issue will be a focus of the government, especially with its new recognition and reconciliation act. But the effort is being driven from the premier's office.
And Shirley Bond goes from education to transportation. Perhaps a Prince George MLA in the job will mean more attention to issues outside the Lower Mainland. Or perhaps not.
Three key ministers stay put. Pat Bell remains in forests. He was only appointed a year ago, but so far has not made much of a mark.
Rich Coleman keeps housing and social development. He seems keen on housing; but less so on the problems for people on - or unable to get - the dismal welfare payments.
And Colin Hansen - an eerily competent minister most of the time - stays in finance.
You do wonder about some of the jobs. Does B.C. really need both a minister of healthy living and sport and a minister for the Olympics and ActNow B.C., which promotes healthy living and sport? Or a minister for climate action, or intergovernmental relations?
But cabinet posts keep MLAs happy and loyal. And who knows, perhaps the new ministers - especially those just elected - will bring a fresh attitude and frankness to cabinet meetings.
That hasn't happened in the past - at least based on the Liberal experiment with open meetings - but you can hope.
Footnote: Cabinet ministers get an extra $50,000 on top of the $100,000 MLAs are paid. But it's not about the money for most. They get access to the premier and staff to walk them to meetings and arrange their days and a chance to feel they're making a difference. They are the cool kids, which is powerful given their nerd roots.


Anonymous said...

The health ministry will be Falcon's undoing... the man is too uncouth (and frankly ruthless) to lead such a sensitive ministry. Remember what this guy had to say about jumpers on the Lion's Gate Bridge? I fear for health care in BC.

Anonymous said...

"...Colin Hansen - an eerily competent minister..." An adjective I've never seen used this way before.

Have any of the bright sparks in the press asked Campbell why we need 25 ministers? I'm guessing the answer will include: 'these tough economic times'... Perhaps that means all the extra cabinet pay is meant to stimulate the economy through the thoroughly discredited 'trickle down' effect.

paul said...

It is an odd adjective. But Hansen's command of his ministries is really impressive. When he was health minister I did a column for papers around the province and kept up with a lot of issues. I'd ask about something truly detailed - waits at a clinic in some small town. I expected him to say he'd get back to me. Instead, Hansen would explain that one of the three nurses was on maternity leave, but would back in six weeks and the problem would ease.
And he would face really difficult situations with straightforward, logical answers. You didn't have to accept them, but it wasn't just political dodging and weaving.
The impression was of eerie competence.

DPL said...

It really doesn't make much difference which label ends up on the MLA's. Gordo runs things not the ministers, Heck even the Deputy Ministers report to him not their so called bosses. Gordo and Hansen are about the only two people who keep talking about the deficit being less than 500 million. And you call Hansen competent? His ability to say yes Gordo, you are right Gordo keeps him at a higher salary. Become a Gordo MLA and drop any pretence of thinking on your own or lose the perks. How can some of those people manage to sleep at night knowing they are simply yes person's. Heck and for the ones who didn't make the cut, Gordo will find them a position somewhere to increase their wages. He is so short of talent he has Dejong as AG and as house leader. The AG is supposed to above such petty stuff as stickhandling in the house. But now that Gordo has the control for a few more years, one can only wonder just how many media folks will stop dumping on him and start calling his finance guy who can't see the real facts as competent. Coleman will be the next bright light on some columns no doubt.
Mind you Gordo is not alone. The Opposition leader was arguing against the gas tax and today did another of her rather famous turn arounds and says . It's here to stay. Do we ever elect some dandies? And folks wonder why over 50 percent of the citizens simply said. "To hell with it " last time around" What was the old expression? "Don't vote for any of them as it just encourages them". I've never not voted but it's getting harder all the time to go to the poll booth and much harder to listen to their Bullshit.

seth said...

The minister of energy has a high school diploma and used to pull cable at BCTel.

Yet on the backbench we have Ralph Sultan P.Eng (Electrical) former Professor of Economics at Harvard and CEO of RBC Dominion.

Guess Ralph doesn't support the Russ Limbaugh talking points that Gordo's chief economic advisor Michael "Neocon" Campbell uses to formulate government policy.

Gordo's ground breaking buy high sell low business plan buying 100 billion dollars in Pirate Power at 12 cents a kilowatt hour and selling it at 2 might work for Gordo's unqualified for just about anything cabinet but not for Professor Sultan the only professional engineer in Gordo's government.