Cabinet shuffle causes wreckage not progress

There can be no argument about the need for new bodies in cabinet, but there was no need to play 52 pickup with a third of the deck.

Globetrotting Premier Christy Clark is taking oven mitts to a boxing match this week.

Clark is in China to participate in the World Economic Forum annual meeting of “the New Champions.” Gag me with a chopstick.

At this global sticky bun toss, our premier will co-host a “New West Partnership” reception along with Alberta and Saskatchewan leaders to promote Western Canada’s trade and investment advantages.

I’m wincing already. Picture it. The face of Western Canadian unity. Clark and Alberta Premier Alison Redford, claws bloodied, teeth clenched, in a room full of oil-thirsty Chinese Cheshire cats demanding, pleasantly enough, to know when the first tanker full of Enbridge bitumen will arrive.

It’s going to be grim. But no more grim than the mess Clark has left behind here in Victoria where her new cabinet is foundering in a swirl of bureaucratic chaos courtesy of Clark’s latest bout of domestic marketing.

I got a note this week from a very disheartened mid-level bureaucrat expressing what can only be described as profound frustration and dismay over Clark’s cabinet shuffle last week. I got a similar note last year.

The election readiness shuffle resulted in five ministry changes to accommodate the shifting about of various departments. For example: Innovation in Pat Bell’s old Jobs ministry went to the expanded Advanced Education ministry. Meanwhile, Bell added the Labour portfolio to his shop and the old Labour ministry was carved up and reduced to Citizen Services and Open Government under a rookie.

These changes, plus the addition of two new ministries of state — Seniors and Small Business — have fundamentally changed the way several government branches function and interact.

The cost to taxpayers is staggering. Add it up: new letterhead, new business cards, moved offices, new phones and new computer configurations. Then add the toll on human productivity and morale with scores of migrating public servants demoralized, confused and newly powerless to implement accountable public policy.

There can be no argument about the need for new bodies in cabinet in light of the pre-election resignations of Kevin Falcon (finance), George Abbott (education), Blair Lekstrom (energy), Mary MacNeil (children and families) … the core of Clark’s talent pool. But, there was no need to play 52 pickup with a third of the deck.

With no less than 17 of 49 MLAs having quit, defected or announced they won’t seek re-election, the challenge of hobbling together a credible cabinet was daunting. The appointment of veteran West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan as Minister of State for Seniors tells me how desperate Clark was.

I am not for a second suggesting that Sultan is a lightweight — quite the contrary. The 79-year-old engineer, economist and Harvard intellectual languished on the Liberal backbenches for 11 years for a reason. Former premier Gordon Campbell was deathly afraid of Sultan’s steadfast refusal to suffer fools gladly. And, after Sultan backed George Abbott in the Liberal leadership race, Clark toyed with the idea of parachuting her pal Pamela Martin into his rock solid seat.

I’d love to watch Sultan defend, or not defend, his ministry estimates in budget debate next spring.

But, that won’t happen. The Legislature will be adjourned for the election campaign long before any of the A-Team is tested in the House by the NDP. They’ll all be out on the hustings taking oven mitts to a heavyweight fight. M

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