NDP seeks reset in cabinet shuffle

Greg Selinger’s NDP provincial government sought to reinvigorate things with a cabinet shuffle on Oct 18. The shuffle saw numerous changes, with three new ministers elevated from the backbenches, three dropped, and four veteran MLAs taking on new portfolios.

One of the biggest changes was to the Department of Finance, where Stan Struthers, the MLA for Dauphin, was dropped from the portfolio. Jennifer Howard, who formerly headed-up Family Services and Labour, will be the new finance minister in what is seen as a big promotion. Struthers will stay on in cabinet, but in the much less important role of minister for municipal government (excluding the City of Winnipeg).

Struthers was responsible for implementing the provincial government’s much-reviled PST rate hike, from seven to eight per cent.

The NDP has been suffering in the polls since the rate hike was announced earlier this year. Legislation requiring a referendum on any new revenue-increasing measures was amended by the government, suspending the requirement.

Among the new appointees to cabinet was James Allum, MLA for Fort Garry-Riverview, who will be the minister of Education and Advanced Learning. That portfolio now includes higher education institutions in addition to primary and secondary schools – responsibilities previously allotted to a separate minister of advanced learning.

“A good education is key to a bright future. We are focusing on improving the quality of education in Manitoba, connecting young people to jobs, and keeping education affordable for parents and students,” read a statement from the province to the Manitoban addressing the portfolio amalgamation.

Minister Allum takes on the education portfolio at a time when tuition fees in the province are rising, although there is no plan to reintroduce the province’s tuition freeze. The freeze was lifted in 2008, and fees have since risen more than 10 per cent.

“Under our legislation, university tuition fees can’t rise faster than the rate of inflation. This year, we have the third lowest university tuition fees in Canada and the second lowest college tuition,” said the province.

The three MLAs who were dropped from cabinet are Christine Melnick, formerly of Immigration and Multiculturalism, Nancy Allan in Education, and Jim Rondeau, who had headed-up the Healthy Living portfolio.

Allan was responsible for steering Manitoba’s new anti-bullying bill through the legislature. It is rumoured that she will not be seeking re-election.

Aside from Allum in Education, the other two new faces in cabinet are Sharon Blady, as the new minister for healthy living and seniors, and Erna Braun, who will take on the Labour and Immigration file.

Other changes include the merging of Conservation and Water Stewardship into a single portfolio, and giving the City of Winnipeg its own file, to be taken up by Kevin Chief, MLA for Point Douglas. Chief is also the minister of Children and Youth Opportunities.

The size of cabinet remains unchanged –  19 sitting ministers.

Halfway through their fourth consecutive term, the NDP has seen its support wane, the Conservative party benefiting at their expense.

The Liberals, who have long languished as a distant third and currently only have one seat in the provincial legislature, have also seen their support rise. The party has just chosen a new leader, Rana Bokhari, and is looking to benefit from the NDP’s flagging support.

“My focus is on getting a strong foundation in place for the party so we can be in some kind of fighting form in the next election,” Bokhari told the Globe and Mail.

The Selinger government will lay out its vision to Manitobans on Nov. 12 with a throne speech. The next provincial election is expected two years from now, in October 2015.