Wouldn’t you just love to be a fly on the wall in the office of new premier Alison Redford?
I imagine a steady stream of supplicants parading into her office to offer congratulations. There will be plenty of “I knew you could do it” and “You’re just what this party needs now”, and the occasional “You go, girl!” from clueless backbenchers who still think “You go, girl!” is hip.
What she won’t be hearing is “So, where’s my cabinet post?” Redford enters the premier’s office with zero support from anyone in cabinet, meaning every last one of them is feeling a little tight around the collar right now. Redford is going to announce her cabinet next Wednesday, and since it’s such a difficult decision, I’d like to offer a suggestion.
Don’t go for a wholesale change. Just fine tune and tinker, but don’t start over. Seriously.
Let’s take a look at this situation. We are going to have an election next year, probably in the spring. That’s six months, maybe a few more if the price of oil tanks. Now, let’s assume she makes wholesale changes in her cabinet, exchanging someone like Luke Ouellette with someone with an ability to put together an English sentence. It takes months for an MLA to get a grasp on his or her portfolio, longer if they’re an Edmonton MLA with their diminished mental capacity. It takes a long time for the bureaucracy to train a new minister. It’s not unlike training a puppy; you’ve got to whack them across the nose with a newspaper a few times before they stop messing the carpet. So the new guys and gals will just barely get themselves used to the new job then it’s time to go to the polls. What purpose has been served? (As well, now that she has agreed to a fall session that starts on Oct. 21, her new cabinet will have zero time to get a handle on their portfolios before they face the house.)
But doesn’t keeping essentially the same cabinet spell status quo to the public, you ask? Maybe, but if she changes everyone, she sends a signal that the government has been terrible and needs to be changed. And she can also make the point that keeping most of the same people in place will save the government hundreds of thousands of dollars in business cards and stationary alone.
But if she doesn’t put her people in place, isn’t there the chance that some ministers will work against her? I don’t think so. As long as she controls the levers of power, any minister who wants to keep his or her job post-election will do as they are told. There are exceptions, of course. Snarling Ron Liepert has restated his opposition to a public inquiry into health care abuse allegations from Raj Sherman (could it be that he’s afraid of what they might find?), so Liepert should probably get the heave-ho just to make a point.
Then there’s the question of Parson Ted Morton. Does she bring the reputed leader of the right wing back into cabinet? I say no. Morton, by his poor performance in the leadership campaign, has shown that he’s a spent force. My guess is that at his age, and after two failed leadership runs, he’ll probably not run next time or join the Wildrose to cause trouble. Morton is very smart and a tough performer in the legislature, but his day is done.
So here’s what I’d do. Make a few select changes just to send a bit of a message — maybe turf Liepert to show ‘em who’s boss, turf a couple of the weaker performers and bring in a few select Calgarians like the smart and long-overlooked Neil Brown (sorry, Edmonton, but there is no one to promote amongst the backbench lapdogs this city elected last election), give Doug Griffith and Doug Horner front bench seats to show how magnanimous you are — and leave it at that.
With only a fall session likely before a spring election, this is no time to make massive changes. Just tinker with the cabinet, and soon enough everyone but political junkies and the media will have forgotten who’s in charge of what.