Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Stelmach Shuffles the Cabinet but Does it Make a Difference?

So the Stelmach government Cabinet shuffle is over. Let’s take a look at the "new look" Cabinet. The media plays the winner- loser game on Cabinet shuffles and that is always “fun” except for the losers. I will not characterize the shifts in those terms but more in capacities and consequences for the Stelmach government and the potential for better or worse governance.

The Sad side:

The most notable exclusions from Cabinet are Janice Tarchuk and Fred Lindsay. We will never know the real reasons but the fact is they are not demoted they are delisted. Both are quiet people and questions of competence have enveloped them both. I know them both as good people and pass no judgment as to competency. That is the Premier’s job.

Also "delisted" is Doug Griffiths.  He is out of his role as Parliamentary Assistant. That is a serious political mistake at so many levels. I know Doug has been marginalized, as have most progressives in the Stelmach government. I am sure the Fiscal Four framing did not help Doug and the fact he actually speaks with some independent thought as an MLA. What is more (and worse from the leader’s brains trust perspective I am sure) Doug speaks his mind on his Blog and to a lesser extent, on Twitter. Griffith’s use of social media is an effective means of ensuring that “better communications” the Premier has been promising for about a year now, but has not yet achieved.

The Upside:

There are a couple of positive notes. I have to say I think Thomas Lukaszuk is one. He has grown over the years in politics and he has worked hard, especially at the constituency level. He is ready for Cabinet and I applaud the Premier for rewarding him but also for acknowledging his potential.

The fact that Snelgrove is still President of Treasury Board means Ted Morton has a “keeper” in his new Finance job. Snelgrove has been one of the most pleasant of surprises in the Cabinet from the Stelmach loyalists. He was a protégé of Steve West (comes from the same areas and riding) but Lloyd has none of that nastiness. He listens and sees all sides of issues and he can make hard decisions. But does so with reasons and takes the responsibility for the decisions too.

Having acknowledged “Political Ministers” in Edmonton and Calgary is a good thing too. Hancock and Redford in those roles are smart choices. Moving Jack Hayden into Agriculture and Rural Development makes him the de facto Political Minister for rural Alberta. That too is a very good choice and move. Jack is a rural development guy who gets agriculture. There is so much anger in Ag circles and even city-slickers like me hear about them. Jack has some work to do to fix that or the WAP will be eating PC s alive in the country come the next election.

The Downside:

The promotion of Ted Morton to Finance is not the downside that many may believe. I think he will surprise some folks in the effective execution of the budget's goals. The budget is done already.  Morton just gets to write and read the speech – this time. Not all of the surprises Morton will execute will be pleasant.  There is a move to “crack down” on social services budget expenses in health, education, vulnerable Albertans like children, seniors and PDD folks. That is all political more than fiscal, just like even more tax concessions, cash incentives and royalty giveaways to the oil patch are political...all in service of the perpetual push by Stelmach to buy some political love in Calgary.

And besides the current Budget is done and the deficit will have magically all but disappeared by the time the next Quarter “disclosure” comes due. Oil is up and gas has been over $5 for about five months now. Next time, the Budget for 2011-12, going into the red zone for the next election is a different story. Till the fiscal hawk still have sharp talons to cut and kill programs in the lead up to an election? Nope!

The downside is that this Cabinet is all about fixing the screw ups and papering over political problems. It is not about vision or striving or even sacrifice. There is no attempt to show fiscal sacrifice by amalgamating departments to reduce the size of Cabinet. They want the not-for-profit sector to become smaller and do more with less. They could have shown leadership if they were serious and sincere about the reasons and reduced the size of Cabinet. It still sits at 24 and was at 18 when Stelmach became Premier.

Here and the fixes and the wallpaper over the cracks. Liepert is in Energy and out of Health. The energy sector has direct access to the Premier whenever they wish. They will not go through Liepert nor will they trust him to be their guy at Cabinet. The patch will do its own lobbying directly to the powers that be. And if they want political attention from a recalcitrant Premier, they will call Danielle – not Ron.

Mel Knight in SRD means the Land Use Framework is losing steam. Morton took is as far as he could and had lost interest near the end. Knight is an energy guy not a forest and fauna guy and will not be able to take on reconciling the pending political battle between Quad owners and conservationists, never mind the real complex stuff that needs real attention like the mountain pine beetle’s capability for total destruction of the boreal forest. If ever a department could not afford a holding pattern – they are SRD and Environment…I will get to the latter department later.

The Ho-Hum Side:

The Morton and Denis Cabinet appointments are appeasements of the far right and to stop more floor crossings. No comments from me about competence in either case, I am sure they are. Just an interesting development that says more about the continuing fear the PCs have about the rise of the Wildrose Alliance. They are missing the reaction of that larger segment of the population, like those angry and frustrated citizens who showed up at the Whitemud Citizen’s Forum on Health Care earlier this week and gave Dave Hancock a piece of their minds.

The Cabinet seat merry-go-round of Goudreau from Employment to Municipal Affairs is a fix-a-problem shift. Danyluk had angered both the AUMA and AAMDC to the point where they were working jointly on advocacy issues, he had to be moved. Fritz to Children and Youth Services is a fix the Tarchuk problem not a solution to the Children’s Services problem. Hayden to Ag and Rural Development is a fix the Groenveld problem because he was as unpopular on the farm as Danyluk was in the towns and counties. Zwozdesky to Health is a fix the Liepert problem but will it deal with the problems in healthcare? These changes seem more like musical chairs than anything else. Guess we need to see the Mandate Letters, the Budget and Business Cases to see if there is any focus on fixing the real problems and not just the political perceptions.

Nine Ministers stay put and that is not a bad thing so far as Renner, Horner, Hancock and Snelgrove are concerned. There will be those who speculate that Horner as Deputy Premier is a signal that he is Stelmach’s choice to succeed him. It is way too soon to even suggest something like that. Even if it were true, it offers no upside advantage to Horner in his pursuit of that goal, presuming he aspires to be the next Premier.

The big downside is that the Shuffle is its utter insignificance. It offers no new energy, no new vision nor sense of a focused sense of a new direction. It says nothing to mark a place in time that we can look back on and say – that was when the fortunes of the PC Party turned around and got back on track. Harry Strom and Don Getty didn’t do it and Ed Stelmach hasn’t done it now either. With two years left in the mandate, he will not get a second chance at showing us some inspired real change…at least not with another Cabinet shuffle. If there is a next time for another Cabinet before the next election, the PCs would only look desperate, weak and afraid of the WAP.