Monday, July 27, 2009

What Cabinet Shuffle Advice Would You Give Premier Stelmach?

Every now and then rumours appear about a Cabinet Shuffle in the Alberta government. Usually they arise when something momentous happens (booting Boutilier does not count as momentous by any objective measure). The shuffle rumours are circulating quietly, likely also around the BBQ and golf tournament circuits, this summer.

Ron Stevens' Resigns But No Shuffle
We had a potential for a "momentous" occasion that could have given rise a Cabinet shuffle. It was too soon in the mandate and the Premier did the right thing by personally assuming the roles and responsibilities of the departed Minister. The surprisingly rapid resignation of Ron Stevens was the potential momentous occasion trigger for a Cabinet shuffle. He was the Deputy Premier, Minster of International and Intergovernmental Relations and perhaps most important of all, Ron was the political lead in Calgary. He was respected and a buffer for the Stelmach government in Calgary. Out of the blue he resigns and the next week shows up with an appointment the Court of Queen's Bench. Net result, no shuffle and nothing really changed.

Shuffles also occur when there is a perception that the Premier's "political team" needs a shake up. A recent Deputy Minister mini shuffle saw two of them switch places but that hardly constitutes a shake up. This was a very strange event and done without much explanation. Is is still leaving speculation about what exactly was the driving force behind that decision and who made it. These kind of strange anomalous happenings add to the perception that the government is drifting and one of the best solutions would be for a front bench shake up.

A New Tough Budget Cycle Could Use Some Fresh Horses
It would be a good move to start the new budget and policy process with a fresh set of horse all pulling the same policy wagon and in the same clear direction. In September it will be 18 months since the last Alberta election. That may be a bit soon for a shuffle in normal circumstances. But these are not normal times. There is a growing sense of restlessness throughout the province about the economy, the environment, the quality of life in Alberta and the future direction of the province generally. That angst could be largely addressed by a Cabinet shake up and a new policy agenda clearly and forcefully articulated by the Premier.

There is a need to revise the thinking and governing philosophy from record surpluses to record deficits. We need deal with the recession and what we are going to do about it. We also need reposition the provincial government's mindset about how to deal with the environment. There is a nagging feeling that the front bench could use some serious focusing and take a much more strategic and coherent approach as they go forward into the next budget cycle. After all the writing is on the wall that at least $2B of budget cuts are coming next year.

The Premier is on record saying taxes are not going up. Our resource revenues, natural gas especially, are in the tank and likely to be there for a while longer. Some serious planning, cutting and communication work needs to be done. Re-branding the province with slogans, logos and paid advertising is not going to reassure Albertans that their government "gets it" and is capable of dealing with the challenges ahead.

Facing the PC Party Confidence Vote
The Premier also has to face the PC Party in a confidence vote in early November. He will need all the power his office can bring to bear on ensuring a big turnout and a strong endorsement. Culling his Cabinet herd early this fall may help reassure PC partisans he is reaffirming his leadership of the party and of the government and is taking control of the agenda.

If there ever was a time for Premier Stelmach to rethink and re-imaging how and where he wants to lead the province the time is now. Albertans are ripe for some changes but they want to see a plan that they can have confidence in. Given all of this political noise and churn, could a Cabinet Shuffle be in the offing this fall? I would not be surprised - either way.

What Cabinet Changes Would You Make If You Were in Charge?
So lets presume some Cabinet changes are going to happen. What advice would you give Premier Stelmach for a Cabinet shuffle? No cheap shots or character assassinations please. Give us your picks and pans and give us your reasons too. And please go beyond the personalities. Shift happens. Give us your Cabinet shuffle thoughts and recommendations. Tell us why you think your recommendations would be better to help ensure the prosperity and progress of the province.

I know the Premier's office reads this blog from time to time so your recommendations just might have some real influence. Who knows. Looking forward to your Cabinet shuffle thoughts, comments and recommendations.