Cab­i­net shuf­fle raises is­sues on tim­ing, ra­tio­nale

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

Why now? That ques­tion has sent the Op­po­si­tion, me­dia, pun­dits and many Is­lan­ders scur­ry­ing for an­swers in the wake of Premier Wade MacLauch­lan’s hur­ried and sur­prise cab­i­net shuf­fle Thurs­day.

The premier’s ra­tio­nale — that it’s early in the cal­en­dar year and this is an ideal time to make changes — doesn’t hold up un­der scru­tiny. It seemed like a rushed and sud­den de­ci­sion.

This cab­i­net was sworn in just over seven months ago fol­low­ing the May 4 provin­cial elec­tion. It’s too soon for such a ma­jor shuf­fle when a com­mon rule of thumb sug­gests that it takes a cab­i­net min­is­ter six months to get a han­dle on the depart­ment, understand how things op­er­ate and be­gin to de­velop co­her­ent pol­icy.

Hal Perry barely got that min­i­mum win­dow of op­por­tu­nity be­fore be­ing dumped. Other fac­tors must be in play. Mr. Perry had a large and cum­ber­some depart­ment and he strug­gled early. That was to be ex­pected. He was crit­i­cized for un­der-per­form­ing and the premier ob­vi­ously had con­cerns.

It was Premier MacLauch­lan who took the lead role in a news con­fer­ence last fall an­nounc­ing a ma­jor re­struc­tur­ing of the depart­ment. The changes were made to ad­dress a se­ries of se­ri­ous con­cerns such as poor stu­dent test scores, labour un­rest, de­clin­ing en­rol­ments, re­zon­ing and pos­si­ble ad­di­tional school clo­sures.

Cab­i­net heavy­weight Doug Cur­rie — who has bounced be­tween the mega-port­fo­lios of health and ed­u­ca­tion for more than eight years — is back to sort out the con­fu­sion in ed­u­ca­tion. He per­formed ex­cep­tion­ally well in health since 2011 and the for­mer ed­u­ca­tor now faces ma­jor chal­lenges in his old port­fo­lio.

The premier might be ap­plauded for rec­og­niz­ing that a prob­lem ex­isted and then tak­ing quick ac­tion to make changes. But this se­ries of mul­ti­ple changes have kept the prov­ince in a state of dis­ar­ray.

De­pend­ing on who is count­ing, Mr. MacLauch­lan has kept his cab­i­net in a volatile state since he was sworn on as Lib­eral leader and premier 10 months ago. The Op­po­si­tion sug­gests it’s the fourth shuf­fle since he was sworn in as leader but res­ig­na­tions, con­ven­tions, re­tire­ments and an elec­tion ne­ces­si­tated most of them.

The semi-con­stant state of flux isn’t the health­i­est sit­u­a­tion for the prov­ince. The premier did hint in year-end in­ter­views that more changes might be com­ing but few thought it would in­volve ma­jor cab­i­net moves.

There are al­ways win­ners and losers in any cab­i­net shuf­fle. A big win­ner is Prince County which now has three cab­i­net min­is­ters — two of them strongly con­nected to West Prince in Rob­bie Hen­der­son and Paula Big­gar. Summerside fi­nally has its cab­i­net min­is­ter — an omis­sion the city had right­fully taken se­ri­ous is­sue with since last May.

Tina Mundy, the rookie MLA for Sum­mer­sideSt. Eleanors, who was named to cab­i­net for all of one day last May, is back as min­is­ter of Fam­ily and Hu­man Ser­vices. She boosts the num­ber of women in ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil to two — an­other prob­lem area ad­dressed by the premier.

There were some sur­prised looks when Kath­leen Casey wasn’t tabbed for cab­i­net Thurs­day but Summerside had to be rep­re­sented around the in­ner ta­ble. The size of cab­i­net has in­creased to 10 min­is­ters since Mr. Cur­rie’s for­mer du­ties were di­vided — a tes­ta­ment to that min­is­ter’s abil­i­ties — but it also raises ques­tions about added costs gov­ern­ing the prov­ince.

Mr. Hen­der­son, a for­mer min­is­ter of tourism un­der Robert Ghiz, was sur­pris­ingly ab­sent when the premier named his cab­i­net af­ter the elec­tion. The pop­u­lar and com­pe­tent MLA is back, this time in health, the largest and one of the most se­nior port­fo­lios.

The top pri­or­ity for gov­ern­ment — af­ter get­ting ed­u­ca­tion sorted out — is a promised bal­anced bud­get this spring. For that to hap­pen, there must be a lot of belt-tight­en­ing, cuts and changes in pri­or­i­ties.

Premier MacLauch­lan ex­pressed the hope that changes are over for a while and it’s time for the prov­ince to get down to busi­ness. There is a lot of work to be done. We couldn’t agree more.

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