Changes to new Progressive Conservative leader Brian Pallister’s shadow cabinet brought Brandon West MLA Reg Helwer a major promotion.
Helwer takes on critic duties for justice, Attorney General and constitutional affairs while retaining the Manitoba Public Insurance portfolio he held in the last session of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, Pallister said from Winnipeg during a press conference call on Wednesday. The first-term MLA previously held responsibilities for Manitoba Hydro, Manitoba Public Insurance and Brandon issues.
"It’s a great challenge and I have a lot to learn," Helwer said. "Justice has always been a tremendous challenge for Manitoba and I don’t think this NDP government has done a terribly good job with this. There’s lots of room for improvement."
Pallister said the fact Helwer is not a lawyer was not a factor in his decision to give the Brandonite the key position, and noted it could be to Helwer’s advantage that he isn’t a lawyer.
"A lot of the problems that face our justice system have not been solved by lawyers," Pallister said. "I think Reg Helwer has tremendous proven capabilities and another set of eyes is a good thing when they are as experienced, knowledgeable and capable as Reg Helwer’s. This obviously is an important file and is one that matters deeply … province wide."
Pallister noted that Helwer’s responsibility for Constitutional Affairs comes just as the Parti Québécois is set to take power in Quebec, which could mean "more dialogue on that file."
Helwer said it could be too early to comment on whether there could be a referendum on separation in Quebec, and expects it could remain on the back burner given premier-elect Pauline Marois’ mandate is a minority government.
While those handling justice files either as critic or as cabinet minister usually are lawyers, Brandon Coun. Jim McCrae (Meadows) was a highly regarded justice minister in Gary Filmon’s government, and did not have a law degree. Helwer replaced Steinbach MLA Kelvin Goertzen, who is a lawyer.
"There’s always good and bad things when you aren’t coming in to that position from a legal entity," Helwer said. "In the business world, I have dealt with a number of legal issues and learned from experience, which is often the best teacher."
The shadow cabinet changes, announced one day after Pallister was elected as an MLA in the Fort Whyte byelection, reflect a different approach to opposing government policy than the one last used by former party leader Hugh McFadyen.
Pallister grouped his critic responsibilities so they deal with only one cabinet minister.
In the last legislative session, a critic may have had responsibilities for departments governed by more than one cabinet minister.
"I think you have to hit the ground running and the folks that are here, some of them have been in the same areas of responsibilities for some time," Pallister said of the shuffle.
"This is by no means a criticism of their performance and in fact I believe the caucus has done very well in a number of areas. But I also feel it’s important to be able to work in a variety of areas. So I considered that in the assignment of responsibilities."
While Pallister’s announcement did not include a specific mention of a critic for Brandon-related issues, Helwer said he will continue to be active on those files as the sole Progressive Conservative MLA representing Manitoba’s second-largest city.
Pallister said his next priority is to travel across the province to get ideas from Manitobans on how the party can do a better job overall and include more people in the decision making process within the party.
"We need to do a better job at the riding level," Pallister said.
"We have a number of riding associations that need to be strengthened and we need to involve more people at the local level so we can do a better job of gathering ideas and input from those people."
That trek across Manitoba will include a stop in Brandon today.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 6, 2012