“Although I recognize the vital importance of Westman to the province and the province’s economy, I am a merit person. I believe very strongly on merit and I believe people have to earn their way whether it’s a cabinet appointment or any other walk of life.”
<*R><BI>— Newly acclaimed Progressive Conservative
Leader Brian Pallister, in August.
“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
— Henry VI, Part 2 Act 4, Scene 2
In what can only be described as a stunning job promotion for a rookie politician, newly minted Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister handed critic duties for justice, Attorney General and constitutional affairs to Brandon West Tory MLA
Reg Helwer this week.
As the Brandon Sun reported on Thursday, the first-term MLA leaves behind his previous responsibilities for Manitoba Hydro and Brandon issues, though Helwer will retain the Manitoba Public Insurance portfolio.
In shuffling Helwer into his new portfolios, Pallister moved Kelvin Goertzen, an experienced and qualified politician with a background in law, out of justice and into education.
Helwer’s and Goertzen’s new roles were not the only major changes to the Tory shadow cabinet — Myrna Driedger moved from health to finance, Leanne Rowat was appointed critic for family services, labour, the Workers Compensation Board, persons with disabilities and the status of Women; and Stuart Briese takes over the advanced education and literacy portfolios, to name a few.
In fact, Pallister’s first order of business, just one day after his win in Fort Whyte’s byelection, was to shake things up in his party, keep his people on their toes and give more duties to his rural backbenchers.
But for Helwer to take over justice is a clear indication that Pallister expects a lot from the Brandon West MLA. To his credit, Helwer knows just how much work is ahead of him, if he is to live up to the requirements of the job.
“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 told the Sun that 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. He accurately noted that local Brandon Coun. member Jim McCrae (Meadows) was a highly regarded justice minister in Gary Filmon’s government, and he too, like Helwer, did not have a law degree.
“A lot of problems that face our justice system have not been solved by lawyers,” Pallister quipped. “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.”
Indeed it is and it does. And if Helwer manages his new duties well — as we expect he will over the next few years — he would set himself up nicely for a future cabinet post should the Tories somehow find a way to defeat the NDP in the next provincial election.
But Pallister’s choice of Helwer for the justice portfolio also serves to underscore an important reality when it comes to provincial politics and Westman — the one local NDP representative we western Manitobans have, Drew Caldwell, has been repeatedly overlooked for a cabinet post for several years now.
For all Pallister’s talk of merit-based appointments, we humbly suggest that Helwer’s new duties have just as much to do with taking a not-so-subtle dig at the local MLA for Brandon East and the NDP, as it does rewarding an intelligent politician with a position of trust.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 7, 2012