Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Clark puts together a reasonable first cabinet

Christy Clark's first cabinet seems pretty astute. That's not surprising; Clark is good at this kind of stuff.
She made Kevin Falcon, the close runner-up in the leadership race, finance minister and deputy premier. Falcon was the business choice for premier. He's tight with federal Conservatives. (Clark is a federal Liberal.)
So by giving him good jobs, Clark reduces the chance of Liberal supporters defecting to a provincial Conservative party and strengthens the province's hand in negotiations with Ottawa if the HST is rejected in a referendum. (There is still that $1.6 billion in federal incentives to discuss if the tax is dumped.)
Other leadership contenders also got decent posts. George Abbott is education minister; Mike de Jong is health minister. It will be interesting to see whether they bring energy and ideas to the ministries. Both have been in cabinet for a decade; it's easy to become jaded about the prospects for real change. De Jong, particularly, doesn't have a track record of achievements in past ministerial posts.
Clark also wanted to show a fresh start - that this isn't the Gordon Campbell government version two.
Which, perhaps, explains Colin Hansen's dumping. Hansen was remarkably competent over the last decade, but the HST taint seemed to seal his fate, probably unfairly.
The other striking exclusion was Dr. Moira Stilwell. She's a doctor and radiologist and nuclear medicine expert. She ran a good outsider campaign for the leadership before withdrawing and supporting Abbott.
But she didn't get a cabinet job, while some lesser lights - at least on paper - did.
Clark did elevate other outsiders while dumping Campbell ministers. The biggest jump came for Mary McNeil, the Vancouver MLA who is now the children and families minister, replacing Mary Polak, who is moved to aboriginal affairs.
It's a good sign for the troubled ministry. Polak seemed trapped as a defender of the sad status quo and failed to deal effectively with the oversight of the Representative for Children and Youth.
Clark also replaced Lesley du Toit, Gordon Campbell's handpicked choice to manage the ministry. That change was overdue; the ministry has been mired in a never-ending "transformation" project that has had little apparent effect in improving frontline services.
Overall, Clark shrank the cabinet. It's down to 18 ministers, including the premier, from 24. That's a welcome change; some of the Gordon Campbell cabinet jobs - like a junior minister for building code renewal - were bizarre. It was, however, bad news for Kevin Krueger, Murray Coell, Stilwell and others who were squeezed out.
But the apparent shrinkage is misleading. Clark also appointed 10 MLAs as parliamentary secretaries to help with the workload (and ease hurt feelings). (Ministers get $51,000 on top of the base pay of $102,000; parliamentary secretaries get $15,000.)
Clark also attempted to sort out the confusion Campbell created with a poorly executed re-org of ministries involved in land-decisions.
Energy and mines are also once again under one minister - Rich Coleman, who keeps responsibility for housing as well.
And forests, lands and natural resource operations are all one ministry under Steve Thomson of the Okanagan.
The only new ministry is jobs, tourism and innovation, under Pat Bell of Prince George. Clark has promised action to improve the province's disappointing job situation; it remains to be seen if the ministry has the tools to make a difference.
Clark maintained that emphasis with a new cabinet committee on jobs and economic growth and another on open government and engagement, each with Liberal ministers and MLAs on board.
Their effectiveness - and the chance for cabinet ministers to make a difference - will depend on Clark. Campbell started out as an enthusiastic supporter of strong caucus committees, but a penchant for centralized control saw them dwindle in usefulness.
On balance, Clark and the transition team deserve credit for a well-constructed cabinet.
Footnote: The cabinet changes stripped Coleman of his longstanding responsibility for gambling and liquor sales. But, sadly, it failed to address the conflict in having one minister - now Solicitor General Shirley Bond - responsible for both promoting increased gambling and bigger average losses by British Columbians and dealing with the resulting crime and addictions.


Anonymous said...

I keep coming back, waiting for the usual suspects to accuse you of being a NDP plant for writing such criticism of the Liberal premier. Where are they?

Anonymous said...

Maybe they are a figment of your imagination.