Legislative Report (6 June 2007)

Politics First Priority in Latest Calvert Cabinet Shuffle

“Pity a premier valiantly trying to bring his rattletrap of a governing bus nearing the end of its approximately four-year-long trip. With many serviceable parts having fallen off along the way as the lumbering vehicle loaded with political baggage hit ever-bigger potholes, and facing a steep uphill race that is the next election, Lorne Calvert slapped some retreads on the bus, slathered on a new coat of paint and made some repairs on the fly this week.”

"Cabinet change shows Calvert out of Spares"
(Star Phoenix Editorial June 2, 2007)

Last week’s report dealt with NDP MLA Pat Atkinson’s strange conversion from imminent retirement to enthusiastic booster of Lorne Calvert’s beleaguered government. Many were speculating on how and why Atkinson’s message had changed so quickly and so completely. On Friday, with the announcement of a new NDP cabinet, the speculation ended. Pat Atkinson became Minister of Finance. She is now the second most powerful politician in the province, wielding control over all other departments with the power of the purse. It seems the rewards for deciding to stay on are considerable.

Atkinson’s appointment is the most obvious example of how Lorne Calvert’s cabinet-making exercise was, at its heart, a political exercise. The effective and efficient management of this province and its considerable assets and advantages took a back seat to maintaining the status quo. Calvert, with few other options, chose a finance minister who will appeal to the NDP’s strident hard-core ideologues.

Other cabinet choices, too, show the supremacy of politics over pragmatism. Judy Junor once again finds herself at the decision-making table. Junor has been in and out of cabinet more times than you slam the screen door at the cottage during a hot Saskatchewan summer. Junor is in the political fight of her life in Saskatoon Eastview. So, instead of picking the most competent person available, the one in most need of help gets the job.

Ditto Lon Borgerson, an MLA who seems to re-define the phrase low profile. Borgerson narrowly won in the riding of Saskatchewan Rivers. Again, he appears at the cabinet table not so much for anything he has done or any aptitude he has demonstrated. His ascension comes after the completion of a cold and crass political calculus. Borgerson needs help, and this might raise his current non-existent profile.

The oddest choice by far is the inclusion of Kevin Yates in the new cabinet. Yates was speaking for many members of the New Democratic Party when he began raising questions about Lorne Calvert’s leadership last fall. In September, Yates got punted from his cabinet job, only seven months after that initial appointment. Now, Yates is back in, taking over from Buckley Belanger who is concluding a disastrous performance at the Department of Community Resources.  A performance that included his incompetent handing of the Oyate Safe House and questions surrounding the safety of children at the Four Directions residential facility.

With seven veteran MLAs deciding discretion was the greater part of valour and deciding not to run in the next election, Calvert may have had no other choice but to rehabilitate Yates and assign him to fix Belanger’s mistakes. Then again, the premier may simply be applying that tried and true political advice: keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Add in several more appointments and you have an NDP cabinet that now numbers 20—one of the largest in recent memory, and up from the previous cabinet which numbered 18. Only two MLAs who have announced they will be seeking re-election have been left out. You have to imagine that would hurt.

Right now, a Saskatchewan government should be outlining how it will sustain current economic growth and bring permanent prosperity to our province. Right now, a Saskatchewan government should be cooperating with other provinces on lowering the cost of cancer drugs and reducing waiting lists. That’s what B.C. and Alberta are doing.

However, what we’re seeing is a tired, old government set on using the engine of government to maintain its hold on power.

That’s clearly not where the priority should be.

If you have a question about this report or any other matter, just Contact Lyle.

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