Frankly Speaking: Clark’s new cabinet may well stay afloat

Most people may think the revised cabinet announced by Premier Christy Clark on Monday is simply rearranging the deck chairs on the rapidly-sinking Titanic.

On the surface, that is absolutely correct.

However, a closer look at the new cabinet could lead to the conclusion that Clark is outfitting them with life preservers, in the strong hope that this new cabinet will all board life boats, and make their way aboard a new ship.

The new responsibilities given to Langley East MLA Rich Coleman illustrate this point perfectly. He has been named minister of energy and mines, with responsibility for BC Hydro.

He is no longer deputy premier (no one has been named to that post) and, for the first time since the BC Liberals assumed office in 2001, he is no longer minister of housing.

Coleman is a Clark loyalist and was a key figure in running the 2013 campaign that gave the party an unexpected majority, and the 2017 campaign that led to the current stalemate. After the 2013 election, he was named minister of natural gas development and he has spent much of the past four years trying to get a final commitment to construction of a major LNG plant.

He’s been dealing with investors and senior executives of numerous energy companies, as well as representatives of First Nations and local communities in areas where gas pipelines and plants are proposed.

Now he will be responsible for BC Hydro.

The controversial Site C dam is already causing divisions between the NDP, who hope to take over from the BC Liberals once a confidence vote is held in the legislature after the throne speech, and the Greens, who oppose Site C but have backed the NDP via a written agreement.

The BC Liberals will do all they can to deepen this fissure, as it represents perhaps their best chance to get back into power.

If the NDP are defeated in the legislature, or more likely their agreement with the Greens falls apart, another election is almost certain.

That could easily happen within the next year or two.

Newly-elected Skeena MLA Ellis Ross takes over Coleman’s former portfolios – natural gas development and housing. He is a former chief of the Haisla First Nation and a proponent of LNG.

It is very interesting that he is also housing minister, and that newly-elected Vancouver-Langara MLA Michael Lee is his parliamentary secretary for housing affordability.

Obviously, the premier wants some new faces dealing with the housing issue, which was a significant factor in the BC Liberals losing so many urban seats.

Langley MLA Mary Polak is the new minister of health, giving up her environment portfolio to Jordan Sturdy, former mayor of Pemberton and MLA for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky since 2013.

She won’t have much time to initiate any changes there, given that she likely won’t hold the job for more than two or three weeks.

However, she has proven to be a competent administrator in many different cabinet positions and the signal here is that experience and competence can be found in the BC Liberal ranks.

Former Langley City mayor Peter Fassbender lost his Surrey-Fleetwood seat, and his responsibility for local government and particularly for TransLink has been passed on to former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan, who narrowly won his Vancouver-False Creek seat. Sullivan is well-known as a pragmatic individual, willing to listen to mayors, and this sends a signal that transit and urban development issues won’t be neglected by the BC Liberals, should they get another chance to govern within the next few years.

Former speaker Linda Reid has been named to cabinet as minister of advanced education, and the clear signal there is that she can’t be the next speaker. Some had suggested that she could have continued as speaker when the legislature resumes sitting, and remain even after an NDP minority government takes office.

Of the 43 BC Liberal MLAs, 35 are either in cabinet or are parliamentary secretaries. Clark is ensuring that they are kept busy, and not susceptible to crossing the floor. Individual MLAs will face great pressure to be in the legislature at all times, and inducements to cross the floor are sure to be made to MLAs from all parties in this unique parliamentary situation.

Frank Bucholtz is a retired Langley Times editor and political blogger. Read more at frankbucholtz.