Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 1, 2015
What could be one of Premier Greg Selinger’s final cabinet shuffles reflects a party that is still dealing with a divide of sorts, with a hodgepodge of faces rounding out the ranks of the NDP’s inner circle.
As names new and old swirled following the Wednesday afternoon presser, two stood out that will have an immediate impact on Westman in both a positive and negative sense.
In the premier’s reassignment of James Allum back to the post of education minister, as well as Brandon East MLA Drew Caldwell taking on the portfolio of minister responsible for the City of Winnipeg, the premier has bogged down one minister’s workload and confused pundits and politicians alike.
With the other he has saddled a cabinet minister and supporter with an old haunt, a portfolio where he met with more than a few sour feelings and frustrated school divisions.
First off, the appointment of the day that confused many was the adding of Winnipeg duties to those of the municipal government portfolio for Caldwell.
It baffled many as to why someone whose mantra has clearly stated he was “Working for Brandon” would be put in this position, although Caldwell noted the realignment was more procedural than anything else.
This may be the case on the surface, but the underlying worry is with the additional duties being shouldered by the longtime MLA, will the Brandon portfolio take a hit with Caldwell being spread too thin?
If anyone is capable of the increased workload, it is Caldwell. But one needs to look no further than the plethora of posted photos, appearances and announcements made by the previous minister responsible for the City of Winnipeg, Kevin Chief, to see the job has its fair share of work.
Those photos may be the key to the shuffle, however, as Chief had become increasingly close to Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman.
The two had many shared events and announcements and at one time their proximity prompted Winnipeg Free Press columnist Bartley Kives to put to music their many combined events. If you have a moment to look it up online, the video is quite humorous.
On a more serious note, even the most casual observer is left to wonder whether Chief’s proximity to the Winnipeg mayor had caused trouble in the premier’s office. Appointing Caldwell to the post and removing Chief from the equation ensures for Selinger that he is the only one calling the shots for his popular minister.
Or the possibility exists that Chief asked for the change himself as clearly Bowman’s star has faded since his public spat with True North chairman Mark Chipman and Chief needed to remain clean of the situation for his own future political aspirations.
In either case, Caldwell’s appointment may be a bit more about politicking than the simple realignment suggests, and for someone who works hard to bring opportunity to Brandon, it would be a shame to see a Winnipeg-centric portfolio bog him or this community down.
The other shift that has a direct and immediate effect on this city is bringing Allum back to the post of education minister. It is no secret that over time Allum and the Brandon School Division board of trustees have not seen eye to eye. With his return, the hope is that the hatchet is buried on the past disagreements.
Allum sharply criticized Brandon trustees for moves such as the elimination of 11 full-time teaching positions to more closely align budget and need. There was also a very public disagreement over the handling of the kindergarten to Grade 3 class size initiative in Brandon — both pitted Allum and his portfolio against the local board.
In looking at where we fit into the mix, Allum must at least entertain the calls for a new standalone school in Brandon, or heed the request to stop piling more mobile classrooms as opposed to permanent solutions.
Brandon is dealing with many school population issues and for the minister — or the government, for that matter — to continue to ignore the scenario does not speak well to the faith residents in this area would have in Selinger and company past the next election.
Both Allum and Caldwell have been rewarded for their loyalty to the premier. Whether voters will feel the same come 2016 is the shuffle that means the most to the residents of this province.