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October 26, 2010

Chaos in Campbell-Land

Energy Minister Bill Bennett to Premier Gordon Campbell: Strong Email to Follow!

Bennett resigned from cabinet in 2007 after he hit the news for sending a rude and profanity-splashed email to a Fernie veterinarian. That's tame compared to what Vancouver Sun reporter Jonathan Fowlie reported: "B.C.'s energy minister blasted Premier Gordon Campbell on Monday, saying the premier had made major changes to cabinet responsibilities without consulting any key members of his own caucus." Fowlie quoted Bennett as saying: "It's the difference between doing things to people and with people, and I personally believe it's just smarter to do things with people."

By the 10:00 AM news, Campbell was saying that Bennett is free to say what he thinks. In other words, the premier confirmed that he is a lame duck. He tried to spin it as being different from Carole James who kicked a critic out of her caucus, but all political observers know that cabinet ministers don't criticize premiers, unless the premier is on the way out the door.

The message to all of Campbell's caucus and cabinet is that it is open season on the Premier. Their internal complaints can see the light of day with no fear of what the premier might do.

Vancouver Province columnist Michael Smyth wrote that the cabinet shuffle was underwhelming except for the demotion of Martin Brown, the Premier's chief of staff for the last 13 years. However, the detailed tinkering, for no political benefit, with 16 of the 23 ministries, shifting responsibilities between newly named ministries, obviously annoyed people like Bill Bennett.

Monday's cabinet shuffle was more than rearranging the deck chairs; it was a confusing reorganization. Those attempting to communicate with government will face chaos for weeks as they attempt to trace who is responsible for what. The detailed table which must be passed as an order in council showing which minister is responsible for every section of every act currently in force has not yet been made public, but we know that there are dozens of changes as well as changes in deputy ministers. This is a recipe for disaster at a time when the government needs to focus on saving its political backside, not playing games with how the bureaucracy is structured.

Campbell has moved from one disaster to another since the May 2009 election: the HST, the deficit, Kash Heed, $18 million on the Basi-Virk trial with no satisfaction and now Bill Bennett. On a roll like that, Wednesday's TV address should be a real winner.