Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 7, 2016
You kind of have to feel for Brandon West MLA Reg Helwer. One of the loyalists of Brian Pallister’s members over the last four years, Helwer found himself in the audience last Tuesday as opposed to being on stage when the new Progressive Conservative cabinet was sworn in at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
To be fair to the new premier, he did state there was little to no guarantees for the city, or our MLAs going into this election. With that said, there was a substantial swath of armchair politicos who believed the member from Brandon West was a clear-cut choice for a number of potential portfolios in government. Helwer has proven likable, energetic and hardworking as a member of the legislature, and without a doubt the fact he was not chosen has to sting a bit, and rightfully so.
Pallister’s plan all along was to shrink the size of cabinet by one-third if elected, and Tuesday’s reveal reiterated the fact that he was poised to do just that by working on a leaner, efficiency-based style of government.
Manitobans would be hard-pressed to argue with the new premier looking to trim portfolios in the province, and aside from the standard political opposition to the move, his choice to reduce the cabinet does make sense.
If Pallister was truly going to “find efficiencies” in the province, the fact he looked at his own house first hopefully indicates that his ideals are built on those aforementioned efficiencies, and not the slash-happy politics the NDP warned Manitobans against.
Where the challenge lies now for our city is whether we will have enough engagement for Brandon-specific interests at the cabinet table without an MLA present.
This city has far too many necessary projects in the works currently and in the near future to be positioned without a voice at the table.
And as much as the PC party faithful in the area attempted to downplay the absence, without Helwer or Brandon East MLA Len Isleifson in ministerial positions, it will set our city back.
Moving forward, both of our MLAs face a stiff challenge to engage the cabinet to “work for Brandon,” as former Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell liked to say.
Helwer has his job cut out for him as Brandon’s new elder statesman and member of the government as opposed to opposition.
Meanwhile, Isleifson will be tasked to set the tone for his constituency and also attempting to connect with new cabinet colleagues on projects specific to our city.
To be fair, the region wasn’t completely shut out, as multi-term MLA Cliff Cullen (Spruce Woods) will serve as the de facto Westman representative in cabinet. With Cullen’s appointment, he joins a number of rural reps filling key positions for the premier. Seven rural members have been tasked with portfolios in government, and the fact Pallister chose to look beyond the borders of Winnipeg speaks to his base, but frankly our city deserved more as the second-biggest centre in this province.
The other small sliver of hope comes from the idea the premier himself identifies as an adopted Brandonite due to the time he spent here while attending Brandon University. As much as we will embrace our adopted son, to be entirely honest this city has changed a great deal since Pallister graced the hallowed halls of his alma mater.
Our challenges are legitimate and somewhat unique in this province. We are Manitoba’s finest example of community stuck between the needs of a big city while dealing with the supports of a small town, and a place at the cabinet table would have hopefully continued the mindset of building Brandon, to again coin a term of Isliefson’s predecessor.
It may sound a bit like sour grapes, but to have no representation for our city only reiterates the belief of that second-city mentality Brandonites so often rail against. This was a golden opportunity to show that the “sky was blue” in Brandon and Pallister missed that opportunity by not allowing a voice.
It is a government in its infancy, so some leeway can be given, but Helwer and Isleifson deserved better than was handed out this past week. It would have been nice to have that representation again and our city would have improved as a result of that representation.
Now we are left to bet on the future and hope when a shuffle happens that the premier decides to recognize this city and our needs by offering us a seat at his cabinet table.