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March 12, 2011

Deck Chair Shuffle

At 1:00 PM on March 14th Christy Clark will be sworn in as Premier, followed by her cabinet. On June 5, 2001, she stood in government house to be sworn in as Minister of Education and Deputy Premier. That's when the new Gordon Campbell government laid out a list of promises for its first 90 days in office; one of Clark's biggest promises is exactly 100 days from her swearing in; she campaigned saying there will be a June 24th vote on the HST conducted in the same manner as a general election (polling stations, not postal ballots) with equal funding provided to both sides as was done with the STV referendum in 2009. Her first 100 days are going to be very busy as they will conclude with a vote that could define her.

The last big cabinet shuffle was on October 25th, 2010, just two days before Gordon Campbell's desperate TV address. The October 25th reorganization required a 44 page order-in-council to specify all the changes; it has required subsequent clarifying orders. One of the things to watch for on Monday is whether Clark reverses the mess Campbell made of the resource ministries, a mess that led former cabinet minister Bill Bennett to publicly reveal that deputy ministers were sworn not to tell their ministers what they were working on. Bennett disclosed what insiders know; government is run from the Premier's office with most ministers being little more than glorified public relations people who do what they are told. It is too humiliating for most ministers to be as honest as Bennett was, but no one should think that what he described is unique. Clark may say that she is going to run a different style of government, but it will be challenging to prove that before the next election.

The October 25th shuffle produced 23 ministers plus the premier. Three were junior ministers of state, including one for building code renewal. In addition, nine parliamentary secretaries were appointed; some had titles long enough to require both sides of a business card. Cabinet and parliamentary secretaries accounted for 33 of what was then a 48 member Liberal caucus. The 14 not named in the reorganization got other jobs: speaker, deputy speaker, deputy chair, caucus chair, whip, deputy whip and committee chairs. It is hard to find a member of the Liberal caucus that didn't get some title that offered bonus pay on top of an MLA's base salary of $100,000.

Clark indicated that the cabinet she appoints on Monday will be smaller and fresh. That will be a challenge given the material she has for construction. Kash Heed and Jane Thornthwaite have issues before the court. John Les and John van Dongen have had several chances in cabinet and are still in the penalty box. Gordon Hogg and Joan MacIntrye had a previous chance and didn't work out. It will take all the skill the new head of the Public Affairs Bureau can muster to spin whatever mix Clark comes up with as "new".

One thing is certain, those who are dumped from cabinet and those who are passed over yet again won't be happy. If Clark keeps her word, she won't have enough lolly to make her caucus happy; she may feel she owes nothing to anyone but Harry Bloy, but she'll soon discover how much she needs the obedience of all her caucus.

The next 100 days will be great fun for political observers.