A look at a possible new Campbell cabinet

With B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell’s humbling win of a second consecutive term in government in the province in more than 22 years, albeit with a much-reduced 45 seats instead of the landslide 77 of 79 scored in 2001, it is easy to be hungry for his announcement of a new cabinet. Let’s take a look at what I view as a possibility, taking in to account regional, gender, and ethnic balance as well as skill and education.

His most high profile loss was that of Graham Bruce in Cowichan-Ladysmith on Vancouver Island. Bruce served as the controversial, labour union-busting Minister of Skills Development and Labour since 2001, and in 2004, added the additional duty of Government House Leader in the provincial legislature. Indeed, if Campbell’s strategy to move to the political centre is to be believed, as prognosticated by political pundits considering the resurgence of a centrist, rebranded B.C. NDP, then Campbell will look to a more moderate, affable minister for this portfolio. One such candidate is George Abbott, currently MLA for Shuswap and Minister of Sustainable Resource Management.

Next up, in Saanich South, is the defeat of Susan Brice as Minister of Human Resources, the ministry responsible for provincial social programs including subsidized transit passes and income assistance. Potentially, star candidate Olga Ilich, of Richmond Centre, could enter cabinet in this portfolio. She has a variety of public and private sector experience, including serving as president of a major real estate development company and has sat on various boards and committees, including a stint as Board Chair of B.C. Assessment Authority and as a director and president of the Pacific region of the Urban Development Institute. This could give her the public sector management experience to manage a tough portfolio such as this.

Long-rumoured Chilliwack-Kent MLA Barry Penner could finally enter cabinet as Government House Leader and Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (note the likely change in Ministry name from Agriculture, Food, and Fisheries), allowing Abbotsford-Clayburn MLA John van Dongen to shift from the agriculture portfolio to say, Sustainable Resource Management. He’s believed to be wanting a new challenge, serving in the same job for four years. As for Penner, he’s proven himself as a highly knowledgeable, well-educated, and to be both a political and legislative workhorse – serving as the government’s Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader since January 2004. As well, Chilliwack is known for farming so that seems fitting to give him the agriculture job, too.

Newly-minted Vancouver-Fraserview MLA, and former activist justice on the B.C. Court of Appeal, Wally Oppal is a natural fit for Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Treaty Negotiations. Expect to see him in this portfolio – hands down.

I see star candidate Carole Taylor, former Board Chair of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, wanting an economic-type role instead of a fuzzy arts one given her past business experience starting a successful company. She could become Minister of Small Business and Economic Development, dumping Chilliwack-area MLA John Les from cabinet.

Expect Islanders Stan Hagen (Comox Valley), Murray Coell (Saanich North and the Islands), and Ida Chong (Oak Bay-Gordon Head) to remain in their respective jobs of Children and Family Development, which needs stability; Community, Aboriginal, and Women’s Services; and Advanced Education, where she has proven herself highly competent. They’re the three surviving Liberal MLAs on Vancouver Island where the NDP just dominated elsewhere on the Island – and they should all expect to return to the Executive Council of the Government of B.C.

Prince George-Mount Robson MLA Shirley Bond, currently Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Services who previously served as Minister of Advanced Education prior to a 2004 cabinet shuffle, is said to “very much want out” of the always tough health portfolio. Given her experience, I see the likeliest scenario unfolding: she’ll retain the ceremonial-only post of Deputy Premier and then perform a job swap with rising star Okanagan-Vernon MLA Tom Christensen, who would take over as Health Services Minister and Bond would get the job of Education Minister.

I see no changes in Finance, which also manages Public Affairs Bureau; Energy and Mines; Forests; Public Safety and Solicitor General; Transportation; or Water, Land, and Air Protection, where affable, chummy Penticton-Okanagan Valley MLA Bill Barisoff has seemingly done a decent job, although it’s possible Campbell may revert to the ministry’s old title – Environment, in an effort to adopt a more centrist approach and thwart one of the B.C. NDP’s main campaign promises.

With the loss of cabinet minister Joyce Murray in New Westminster, it’s possible Liberal warhorse Rick Thorpe, Okanagan-Westside MLA, could jump from Provincial Revenue to Management Services. He’s a former principle in an Okanagan vineyard and is a certified management accountant. Given he privatized all non-tax revenue collection and accounts receivable management to EDS Advanced Solutions Inc. last year, Provincial Revenue is a very small portfolio now. Management Services is an important ministry that oversees Enquiry BC and its e-mail and telephone call centres that handle government service calls from people, is responsible for Government Agent offices, manages the government’s Web site, and is responsible for the independent, provincial Ombudsman, Information and Privacy Commissioner, and Merit Commissioner – among other duties. West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan may finally be in line for a financial-related portfolio and slide in as Minister of Provincial Revenue. He’s often called the most over-qualified MLA in the Campbell caucus having served as a senior economist at the Royal Bank of Canada at company headquarters in Toronto, Ontario.

A couple junior-type Minister of State positions will likely be eliminated now that Campbell has a greatly-reduced size of caucus. He still has lots of hopes and dreams of MLAs to fill so don’t expect a much smaller cabinet. Here’s how the ministers of state could shape up.

Richmond East MLA Linda Reid is likely to remain Minister of State for Early Childhood Development.

Peace River South MLA Blair Lekstrom could wind up as Minister of State for Forestry Operations, with the loss of Skeena MLA Roger Harris.

The position of Minister of State for Mining is the most likely candidate for elimination, given the Energy and Mines ministry can easily take over what relevant duties this small portfolio had. This would mean Pat Bell could be dropped from cabinet and it’d be very nice to see. He’s been a political deadweight, never speaks up, and the only time he did speak his mind was when sister Kit Bell sought the B.C. Liberal Party nomination in Kelowna-Lake Country – which she lost to Al Horning, who went on to win the riding and I don’t expect to see in cabinet given the high number of MLAs in cabinet from the Okanagan region.

Surrey-Tynehead MLA Dave Hayer could go into the government of B.C.’s executive council as Minister of State for Immigration and Multicultural Services, assuming this junior position is not the second one I see eliminated.

In an effort to solidify the Liberals’ drastically waning support in Surrey having lost numerous MLAs in the area, Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg could back into cabinet in a much more low-profile, albeit similar, post than his previous Children and Family Development portfolio where he was forced to step aside during a jobs-for-favours bribery scandal involving Community Living B.C. for which his Ministry was responsible. He was never charged, but used-car dealer Doug Walls, the former CEO of Community Living, has been and is awaiting trial – unless new developments have arisen with which I am not aware. So, you could see Mr. Hogg wind up as Minister of State for Mental Health and Addiction Services, a relevant portfolio for him and his riding given both his experience and the drug and crime problems facing the Surrey region. He managed to build up his reputation after the January 2004 cabinet shuffle and served most recently as a highly popular Chair of the B.C. Liberal caucus.

Kamloops MLA Claude Richmond wants a cabinet job and the very partisan Speaker of the Legislative Assembly is likely to be granted that request. He could go in as Minister of State for Intergovernmental Relations, an important albeit small role but one he’ll have to take given the top jobs will likely already be filled. This would bump three-term, eight-year Kelowna-Mission MLA Sindi Hawkins out of cabinet with no real positions unless Campbell creates a new one for her. That’s unlikely, given he wants to reduce the size of his cabinet, not boost. So, I see three scenarios, beginning with the least likely. She’s made Minister of the Crown without Portfolio (essentially, be in cabinet with no job function but able to maintain the benefits and extra pay that cabinet ministers get); dropped from cabinet (at least temporarily) and made Chair of the Legislative Assembly’s most prominent standing committee; or, most likely, made Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole or possibly even Speaker. She’s well liked and respected by all parties and could fit into either of those roles nicely.

Potentially, Delta South MLA Val Roddick could be destined for executive council as Minister of State for Women’s and Seniors Services and Bulkley Valley-Stikine MLA Dennis MacKay’s narrow win over the NDP could make him Minister of State for Resort Development.

We’ll have to wait and see. I’ll keep you posted on June 16th when Campbell announces his new team. Stay tuned.


Ask Jeeves buys Excite Europe

Tiscali: Sale of Excite to Ask Jeeves: “Tiscali announces the sale of Excite Italia BV to Ask Jeeves Inc. for a total cash consideration of EUR 6.1 millions. The divesture of Excite Italia BV, which owns the Excite brand in key European countries, ratifies Tiscali‚Äôs focus of its portal activities under the Tiscali brand and represents another step of the announced strategy of disposing of non-core assets.”

So, the Butler has made another buy, albeit a small one. It bought blog aggregation, creation, and news reading service Bloglines in February for an undisclosed amount and last year purchased Interactive Search Holdings, Inc., for $365 million in cash and stock. However, this deal, at a purchase price of approximately $7.8 million USD in cash, seems to be a bargain given that it includes the trademarks, domain names, and Web portals for Excite in the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and France. It makes sense – since Jeeves already owns Excite, not to mention, iWon, MyWay, MyWebSearch, and adware purveyor Fun Web Products.

Interestingly, it comes just a couple months before IAC/InterActiveCorp completes its purchase and integration of Ask Jeeves, Inc., while spinning off Expedia, Inc., into a separate publicly-traded business.

On Belinda Stronach’s move to the Liberal caucus

At first glance, it is very easy to consider the decision by Belinda Stronach, MP for the Ontario riding of Newmarket-Aurora, as unprincipled and hypocritical – and that’s the tact the federal Conservative caucus wants us to take. However, after taking a moment to reflect on this historic and dramatic bolt from Conservatives to the Liberal caucus, one begins to realize that she was very unhappy in caucus and in the party.

To be sure, critics of the bold departure of Stronach to the Liberals ask why she bothered to engineer the merger of the former Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties in the fall of 2003 and subsequent run for its leadership in early spring of 2004 if she had no intention of staying there for very long. Both points are valid; however, consider that the party still, over a year and a half since the merger, does not resemble that of the old Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

Let’s be clear: it does not support marriage by couples of the same gender; waffles on whether or not it would use the Canadian constitution’s notwithstanding clause to overturn judges decisions in nine provinces and territories that guaranteed the fundamental right of equality for all citizens regardless of different character or mental traits; believes in unusually harsh U.S. style mandatory minimum sentencing; would press for a sharply curtailed National Parole Board; wants to see a return to the wrong-headed U.S.-like “war on drugs” campaign instead of a so-called four-pillars approach; and supports an increased reliance on oil, among other things. These are policies the vast majority of Canadians, including those in crucial central Canada do not, and will not, support.

Ms. Stronach differs from her party on many of those issues mentioned above, including same-gendered marriage. She’s quite socially-progressive. She may be a so-called “blue Tory” when it comes to sound economic policy and tight fiscal management, but I don’t believe that prohibits her from the Liberal Party of Canada. Prime Minister Martin shares those ideals, in fact.

Are people really so shallow that they seek to see her as a “turncoat”, a traitor, or someone without morals and ethics? I choose to take what she said at face value and strongly believe she’ll fit much better in the Liberal caucus. Besides, it’s not like she has much of a chance for the leadership of the Liberal party considering that shallow view of her that quite a few, although I’m confident not most, Canadians share. Because of this, it’s even more abundantly clear she didn’t make the switch because of “leadership ambitions” as the television media and its pundits are quick to “analyze” and ponder.

I am absolutely thrilled she has made this move and I’m not even a member of any federal or provincial political party, not just because it brings stability to the Parliament of Canada and the government but for her own personal and professional happiness where she should be much more content.

Moreover, because of that unhappiness and a feeling that she was out of place in the Conservative caucus, I believe she would have went to the Liberals to sit as a backbench MP with some sort of relatively insignificant parliamentary secretary role. However, I believe that it was probably Mr. Martin who made the offer of Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and Minister Responsible for Democratic Renewal, not the suggestion that she sought and demanded a cabinet post.

As a footnote on the riding of Newmarket-Aurora, it is not likely she will lose the Toronto-area riding given its electoral history. In the 2004 general election as arguably the most high-profile Conservative candidate, she beat Liberal challenger Martha Hall-Findlay by only 711 votes, according to Elections Canada official voting results. So, given her already-high prominence and the riding’s electoral voting pattern, it is very likely she stands a better chance of winning now as a Liberal than as a Conservative where Hall-Findlay, who has a agreed to step down as the Newmarket-Aurora Liberal candidate of record, could’ve knocked her off in the next election – which would’ve been equally embarrassing for the Conservatives.