Editorial: Clark's cabinet is well-crafted

Christy Clark’s first effort at cabinet-building repairs some of the damage done in recent ill-considered shuffles and maintains a reasonable balance between cabinet veterans and new faces.

That’s important for Clark, who is trying to signal a new direction for the Liberal government without risking a backlash from experienced ministers and former rivals in the leadership race.

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Clark made Kevin Falcon, the second-place finisher in the leadership race, finance minister and deputy premier. Falcon was the candidate of the business community and has strong ties to the federal Conservatives. Those will be helpful in keeping the provincial coalition of federal Liberals and Conservatives together. Falcon’s federal ties could also help in negotiations with Ottawa if the HST is rejected in a referendum later this year.

Two other rivals get senior cabinet posts — George Abbott in education and Mike de Jong in health.

But Moira Stilwell, who dropped out of the leadership race and endorsed Abbott, was snubbed this time around. So was Colin Hansen, who, until the HST debacle, was a consistent strong performer in health and finance.

At the same time, Clark elevated some relative unknowns, perhaps most notably Vancouver MLA Mary McNeil, who takes over children and families, and Comox MLA Don McRae, the new agriculture minister. The children’s ministry also gets a long overdue management overhaul with the welcome appointment of Stephen Brown to replace former deputy minister Lesley du Toit.

Clark’s new cabinet also fixed some mistakes from past re-organizations. Universities and colleges are re-united under advanced education. Energy and mines are also once again under one minister and Clark has addressed some of the confusion around resource ministries by bringing forests, lands and natural resource operations into one ministry under Steve Thomson of the Okanagan.

And a new ministry of jobs, tourism and innovation, under Pat Bell of Prince George, is intended to deliver on Clark’s commitment to increased job opportunities.

Cabinet casualties include Saanich North MLA Murray Coell. That leaves the capital region with only Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Ida Chong at the cabinet table, as minister for community, sport and cultural development. Chong’s responsibilities include fixing the problems created by inept cuts to gambling grants to non-profit agencies.

The cabinet’s smaller size — down to 18 ministers, including the premier, from 24 — is welcome. But it’s also deceptive. Clark also appointed 10 parliamentary secretaries, one step below a cabinet minister. That means almost 60 per cent of the Liberal caucus was named to some special role carrying additional pay on Tuesday.

Questions remain. Under Gordon Campbell, cabinet ministers often found their autonomy limited. Clark would be wise to allow greater independence.

And it remains to be seen if new cabinet committees — one on jobs and economic growth and one on open government and engagement — will be effective in co-ordinating efforts across ministries and keeping a focus on Clark’s leadership campaign priorities.

But given the challenges Clark faced, the cabinet appears well-crafted.

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