SOME idle musings, random thoughts and scattered analysis of Premier Christy Clark's shuffle of her cabinet:
Are the B.C. Liberals worried about losing seats in their traditional Okanagan stronghold? Clark promoted two MLAs - Ben Stewart and Norm Letnick - from Kelowna to join Steve Thomson at the cabinet table. It's unusual for so many MLAs from a small geographic region to make the cut for cabinet, so this overload may suggest the premier is concerned where her party sits with the voters in an area which is traditionally fairly conservative in outlook.
Rich Coleman is one powerful guy. His decision to stay on and run again saw him rewarded with the deputy premier designation, and he retains responsibility for energy issues (including natural gas, offshore oil and gas, mining, electricity, and alternative energy) plus housing, liquor and gambling. Should his party lose the next election, Coleman is well positioned to be the point man in any rebuilding effort, since he holds a fairly safe seat and should survive to fight another day.
For all her talk of "renewal," the shuffle masks the fact that only two MLAs who had never served in cabinet before - Letnick and Ralph Sultan - were elevated to the high table. A lot of people moved around, but not many moved up - partly due, of course, to the fact Clark didn't have a lot of bodies to draw on since so many of her caucus members are not seeking re-election.
Speaking of "renewal," the shuffle provided no indication there would be a change in direction for the government in any serious way. The emphasis on job creation and the increasingly vague "families first" policy are still front and centre as the premier's stated priorities. There was some talk of a new tax break, but the government's finances are in such dire straits any such break won't likely amount to much.
We now have a doctor running health care and a teacher overseeing education.
Dr. Margaret MacDiarmid is a former president of the B.C. Medical Association, no less. I can't recall if B.C. has ever had a doctor as health minister. The NDP's Dr. Tom Perry was the Opposition health critic, but not the minister. MacDiarmid herself admits it's unusual for any government to put a doctor in charge of health, so it will be interesting to see how this experiment plays out.
Former teacher Don MacRae is now education minister. He's known for his combative nature in the legislature, so I can't imagine B.C. Teachers Federation president Susan Lambert and him getting all warm and fuzzy any time soon.
It appears the last-second walk in the sun by Blair Lekstrom, who told the premier he wouldn't be seeking re-election after she had made most of her cabinetmaking decisions, resulted in the labour ministry suddenly disappearing into Jobs Minister Pat Bell's growing empire. Once upon a time, being labour minister in this province was a fairly big job, but now it's become almost an afterthought; a sign, perhaps, of the diminished presence of the labour movement in this province.
Despite being stuck in what appears to be a very deep hole when it comes to popularity, the B.C. Liberal caucus is still putting up a fairly relaxed front. The cabinet shuffle ceremony, while not exactly a laugh-a-minute affair, was marked by a fair amount of joking around by those involved. Many observers have drawn parallels to the political situations of 1991 and 2001, when the government of the day was torn by bitter internal dissent and infighting. Quite the opposite atmosphere was on display at the cabinet ceremony, or at a couple of other events attended by caucus members, including those not running again, during the next two days. Of course, this may yet change, although the internal problems of the B.C. Conservative party over its leadership may also be a reason for B.C. Liberals to keep smiling for a while yet.
It is said nice guys finish last. That adage may apply to the 79-year-old Sultan, who finally made it into cabinet after almost 12 years on the backbench and whose appointment comes at a point that may indeed be near the end of his party's time in government. Nevertheless, I'll bet even New Democrat MLAs will be pleased to see the affable and respected Sultan take his seat at the cabinet table.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.