The second-largest city in Manitoba has once again been shut out of a ministerial position in the NDP provincial cabinet.
Premier Greg Selinger shook up his inner circle at the legislature in Winnipeg yesterday, adding three new faces at the expense of three of the longest tenured ministers.
In are three Winnipeg MLAs: Fort Garry-Riverview MLA James Allum, who takes over the education and advanced learning portfolio, Rossmere MLA Erna Braun, who will now oversee labour and immigration, and Kirkfield Park MLA Sharon Blady, the new minister for healthy living and seniors.
Out are St. Vital MLA Nancy Allan, Assiniboia MLA Jim Rondeau and Riel MLA Christine Melnick, who had combined for more than 25 years in cabinet.
Not on the list is Brandon East MLA Drew Caldwell, extending the Wheat City’s cabinet snub to six years.
"It’s an inspiring shuffle," said Caldwell, who was last in cabinet in 2003 as minister of family services and housing.
"This shuffle strengthens us even more in the city of Winnipeg, which is very important ... It brings in a lot of new blood and it allows for the best use of our talent pool moving forward."
Since the 1969 election — when the city was once again divided into two regions — until 2007, Brandon hadn’t been without a cabinet minister regardless of which of the two major parties formed government.
Brandon West NDP MLA Scott Smith was the city’s cabinet minister, prior to being defeated by Progressive Conservative Rick Borotsik in the 2007 election.
Caldwell, who was elected in 1999, served as a minister in three different capacities under former Premier Gary Doer. In 2003, he was removed from cabinet due to health concerns.
He was available for a cabinet position this time around, but was passed over by Selinger.
"There is no bad seat in the Manitoba legislature," Caldwell said, adding he will stay on as the legislative assistant to the premier’s office.
Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA Reg Helwer said the shuffle is nothing more than an attempt to shift focus away from the government’s abysmal track record running the province’s finances.
"The government moved things around, but I don’t know if there will be a lot of change for Manitobans," Helwer said. "This is still the government that promised not to raise taxes and did so twice. Manitobans are still angry with them and a cabinet shuffle isn’t going to solve that."
Brandon’s cabinet snub comes as no surprise to Helwer, as the government continues to focus its attention inside the capital city’s limits.
"They are trying to shore up support in particular areas of Winnipeg where they feel that they might be vulnerable with those new cabinet ministers," Helwer said. "They don’t feel like they need to pay any attention to Brandon."
All of the three outgoing cabinet ministers won by large margins in the last election.
Curtis Brown of Probe Research said the promotion of Blady and Southdale MLA Erin Selby, who moves from advanced education to health, will give them more of a provincial profile.
Both Blady and Selby faced strong opposition in the last election.
However, Brandon wasn’t totally shunned in the shuffle as another major move saw Fort Rouge MLA Jennifer Howard, who was born and raised in Brandon, take over the finance portfolio from Dauphin-Roblin MLA Stan Struthers, who moves to municipal government.
It’s not uncommon, Brown said, for governments that are slipping in the polls to shuffle cabinets to try to inject new life and present a fresh front for the public.
"The NDP hasn’t done the best job of selling the reasons for the PST hike to Manitobans," he said, "and perhaps what we are seeing with Stan Struthers being shuffled is directly linked to that."
Howard has been a shining star for Selinger since being elected in 2007, serving as minister of family services and labour while also being appointed the first female house leader in Manitoba’s history.
"She’s really been on quite a rise," Brown said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 19, 2013