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March 14, 2011

Stilwell Out, Only Three New Faces In

Moira Stilwell has to be the most disappointed member of the BC Liberal caucus. She was a full cabinet minister responsible for science and universities before earning respect as a leadership candidate, only to be demoted to a parliamentary secretary in Clark's government. Margaret MacDiarmid, Randy Hawes, Iain Black, and John Yap join her in being demoted to parliamentary secretary. Colin Hansen, Kevin Krueger and Murray Coell had no soft landing, being kicked out of cabinet with no apparent cushions.

Whether Premier Christy Clark's cabinet represents real change or not, should be judged not just by wood that was pruned, but also by new wood. There are only three new faces in her cabinet: Terry Lake as Minister of the Environment, Harry Bloy as Minister of Social Development and Don McRae as Minister of Agriculture. Made up of 17 ministers plus the premier, three news faces aren't enough for it to be described as representing very much change.

Gordon Campbell's experiment with a super-ministry for natural resources received a little tweak in Clark's cabinet. The new ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations with the old Minister Steve Thomson, no longer has responsibility for the Oil and Gas Commission or for permitting and inspections of major mining projects. Those responsibilities now rest with Rich Coleman in the Ministry of Energy and Mines. Interestingly, Coleman remains Minister responsible for housing. Randy Hawes was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Natural Resource Operations Review to the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (try to get that on a business card). The title suggests that more change, or undoing past change, is possible. Frequently parliamentary secretaries earn additional pay but have little or no authority. Whether change is going to happen will depend on whether any senior public servants have been assigned to make sense of the monster ministry.

It will take weeks for industries and organizations most immediately affected by the changes to establish new lines of communication and arrange meetings with ministers and staff who are trying to get organized. Meanwhile the government must shift its attention to the HST vote which is promised for June 24th, and to securing legislative authority to continue spending once the supply bill runs out at the end of June. Don't expect the opposition to rubber stamp another supply bill for $10 billion; it will require responsible debate, meaning ministers can't simply say they are too new in their portfolios to answer questions.

Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer described her exclusion of Moira Stilwell from cabinet as her second big mistake, the first being refusing to conduct a review of the $6 million legal payout in the BC Rail corruption trial. How long will it be before we see big mistake number three?

The swearing in may be the happiest day for a long time for Premier Clark. The heavy lifting begins!