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October 27, 2010

Sympathy and Praise for Bennett

I feel sorry for Bill Bennett. As Vaughn Palmer explained in his October 27th column, Bennett "disclosed how the premier had engineered a major reorganization of government without consulting either cabinet or caucus, presented it to the ministers and MLAs as a fait accompli, and expected them to go out and defend it to the public." Palmer quoted Bennett saying: "The way it was done is unfortunately very typical."

Other ministers affected by the reorganization are the minister of aboriginal relations (George Abbott, shifted to education), minister of agriculture (Steve Thompson, now minister of the super-ministry, natural resource operations), minister of the environment (Berry Penner shifted to aboriginal relations) and minister of forests (Pat Bell). Did Steve Thompson, Pat Bell, Berry Penner or George Abbott know what was going on for the eight months it took to create the super ministry of natural resource operations? Is the new ministry about facilitating access to natural resources by getting the environment and aboriginal rights out of the way? Were specific companies or industry representatives consulted on the new ministry while the ministers were ignored?

The email from Ministry of Natural Resource Operations Deputy Minister and CEO Doug Konkin to all staff in the natural resource sector references a Natural Resource Sector Management Board consisting of Konkin and Steve Carr, Deputy Minister and Chief Operating Officer, Ministry of Natural Resource Operations, together with the deputies from the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Energy, the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Forests, Mines and Lands. Did those deputies work with Konkin for the past eight months to create the new super-ministry? If so, at least according to Bill Bennett, he and others didn't know, what their senior staff were doing under their noses.

The reason I feel sorry for Bill Bennett is it must be troublesome for him not knowing, which of his cabinet colleagues and which of the deputies had inside information or participated in the change while keeping him in the dark. With distrust like that it is surprising that his blast at Campbell was as mild as it was. It looks like the only difference between the front bench and the back bench is the size of the pay cheque, not the authority or power wielded. The sad thing is that this is not the first government where a first minister has treated his cabinet ministers as puppets. Usually ministers have too much pride to reveal the sham to the public, and for that Bill Bennett deserves both sympathy and praise.