Now that the euphoria of the election has worn off, I wonder if Rachel Notley is waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, wondering, “What the hell do I do now?”
If she isn’t, she should. She has a big, big job ahead of her, and the first thing she has to do is put a cabinet together. Compared to that job, winning the election was a snap. Forming a cabinet from mismatched pieces is like trying to, well, put together a real cabinet with mismatched pieces.
How do you build a cabinet with a government that is made up almost entirely of people who are not only inexperienced in government, but inexperienced in running anything more complicated than a paper route? Hell, a lot of them are inexperienced at life, period.
Luckily for Notley, there are a couple of natural fits for two vital positions. Dr. Bob Turner from Edmonton-Whitemud is the natural — perhaps only — choice for health minister. I mean, c’mon, the guy is a doctor; that’s got to count for something. And Sarah Hoffman, the former Edmonton school trustee, would be a nice fit for education. (If you follow this logic, however, you might be inclined to appoint a college student as advanced education minister, but this would be a mistake.)
After that, well, it gets a little more complicated.
First, what to do about the veterans?
David Eggen will have to be given a cabinet post, and Deron Bilous will have to get a seat at the table, too. But what to do with Brian Mason? Clearly, the long-time MLA an party leader has to be rewarded, but he would be another Edmontonian in a cabinet that is shaping up to be too Edmonton-centric, if you take into account the four existing NDP MLAs all get seats, and if Turner and Hoffman get seats as well. The natural choice for Mason is to be the Speaker of the House. He’s one of the few who knows the rules, he would love to have all the attention, and my guess is he would love even more to get some revenge.
After that, cabinet is a bit of a crapshoot. Clearly, Calgary needs a lot of seats, but outside of Joe Ceci, a former alderman and the most well-known of the new Calgary MLAs, who do you turn to? Anybody over age 30 and with any experience outside of being a flight attendant or a yoga instructor can probably punch their ticket into cabinet. The energy minister pretty much has to come from Calgary, but who qualifies? I’m not saying they need to find an oil executive, but it might help to have someone who knows a little more about the oil industry than just how to use the self-serve at the gas station.
Outside of the big cities, the NDP will need rural ministers to ensure representation from the different parts of the province. The MLA for either Peace River or Lesser Slave Lake (representing northern Alberta) could get a seat. (Have you seen those ridings? Either one is bigger than Prince Edward Island.) Both Red Deer and Lethbridge went NDP, so at least one or two of the new MLAs from those cities will be rewarded.
Now, if I may quote Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons, “Won’t someone please think of the children?”
Notley cannot just toss all of the children’s army to the back of the bus. Somewhere in that group of losing student union candidates there has to be a gem. I expect we’ll see a lot of ‘associate ministers’ — basically a minister on training wheels — appointed to get some young ‘uns involved. Associated ministers can also step in after the inevitable crash-and-burn of a minister(s). The NDP has also promised to create a women’s ministry, a nice 1980s idea that is paternalistic and kind of ridiculous today, that would be a nice starting point for one of the younger, female members.
Luckily for Notley, long-time veterans who believe they deserve their reward will not trouble her. And she won’t be forced to find positions for people who supported her. I suspect she’ll have a fairly small cabinet to start with, not because of ideology, but because she just doesn’t have enough cabinet material.
Perhaps the biggest break for the Notley government? They won’t have to face questions from Rachel Notley.