Shuffle or shell?

Pallister’s cabinet shuffle shows a somewhat revised ministerial approach

Cabinet shuffles were in political vogue in August.

Justin Trudeau’s Aug. 28 shake-up came shortly after Brian Pallister’s Aug. 17 shuffle announcement.

One thing both the federal and provincial cabinet shuffles share is a shifted strategy toward Indigenous affairs.

The feds made a pledge to end the Indian Act and split the responsibilities of providing services for non-self-governing communities from a separate portfolio of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.

Manitoba, on the other hand, split Indigenous and municipal issues into separate roles.

Agassiz MLA Eileen Clarke shifts in title from minister of Indigenous and municipal relations to Indigenous and northern relations.

The split created a new cabinet position specific to municipal affairs that will be filled by Gimli MLA Jeff Wharton.

It’s not yet apparent if the split has more to do with a revised approach to Indigenous relations in the province, or if it’s more so part of a PC focus on municipal politics through Wharton, a rural-based minister.

At the shuffle announcement, Pallister commended Wharton’s “very strong background in municipal politics.”

Pallister may have been referring to competency with passing legislation, or he may have been referring to the capacity to win rural elections.

A portfolio trade between Cathy Cox and Rochelle Squires appears to be, at least in part, a response to the criticism of the initial selection of an anglophone minister to review francophone affairs.

“Obviously, it’s not ideal. It would be preferable if the francophone affairs minister spoke French,” Liberal MP for Saint Boniface-Saint Vital Dan Vandal said to the Winnipeg Free Press in response to the initial cabinet announcement.

New francophone and status of women responsibilities were added to Squires’ plate, along with sustainable development, which was previously Cox’s sole cabinet responsibility.

Squires previously looked after sport, culture and heritage, which are now under Cox’s oversight.

In the midst of a controversial health care restructuring, Steinbach’s Kelvin Goertzen maintains his role as the minister of health, seniors and active living.

Half of Winnipeg’s emergency rooms are set to close beginning in October. Of all the cabinet positions to remain unchanged, the stationary healthcare portfolio is one of the more meaningful items, since it means par-for-the-course cuts to Winnipeg hospitals.

Ron Schuler (St. Paul) moves from Crown services to infrastructure, the previous portfolio of Midland MLA Blaine Pedersen, who was appointed minister of growth, enterprise and trade.

Pedersen’s move came in tandem with a Winnipeg Sun report that he handed his brothers “an opportunity to better their deal on the expropriation of their farmland.”

“The only takers of that offer appear to be Pedersen’s own brothers. Ironically this came after a private member’s bill tabled by (Assiniboia MLA) Steven Fletcher, which would have tightened up conflict of interest rules for MLAs, died on the order table,” Graham Lane writes in the Winnipeg Sun.

Not all Tories agree that the provincial shuffle is particularly meaningful.

Fletcher, who was ousted from the PC caucus in June, told the CBC the shuffle is a “shell game that doesn’t really matter because the power or the decisions are made in the premier’s office.

“We see that time and time again.”

Published in Volume 72, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 7, 2017)

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