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(Published in the Abbotsford News week of May 30, 2005)

Cabinet choices: not just on merit

John Pifer

Choosing the government cabinet in British Columbia often has much more to do with geography, ethnicity and politics than it does with merit or deservedness.

As Premier Gordon Campbell prepares to choose the men and women for Cabinet in the wake of his re-election, there are some obvious candidates, of course, as there are some MLAs who will get into the inner sanctum only because of their race or region. That’s just the way it is.

What is most intriguing this time around is that although the choices are fewer – with only 46 seats compared to 77 in the 2001 election – Mr. Campbell will need to be extra-careful not to offend further some of the patient backbench members who were re-elected.

It never made sense during the first term for the West Vancouver/Capilano’s highly qualified and highly intelligent Ralph Sultan to be left languishing in the background, nor to keep Chilliwack/Kent MLA Barry Penner and White Rock’s Gordon Hogg in minor supporting roles. All three of them deserve finally to make the Inner Circle this time, with Penner and Hogg both being considered for Speaker of the House.

Here are Pifer’s Peerless Predictions for who some of the key players will be, in what will be a reduced Cabinet – perhaps 22 ministers, down from the current ungainly 28:

‘Stars’ to shine: If Wally Oppal is not named as Attorney-General, there will be reports of hell freezing over. Of course he will be. And Carole Taylor will receive a prominent post, and not necessarily a “social issues” ministry, either. Would you believe economic development? It’s too early for the rookie MLA to be made Deputy Premier, but it will happen before the next vote.

 Faithful servants: The erstwhile Colin Hansen has performed well in his brief period in finance; Rich Coleman is the best Solicitor-General the province ever had, and it would be a mistake to move them. Others likely to stay where they have been for what seems like ages -- John van Dongen in agriculture, Mike DeJong in forests and Kevin Falcon in transportation.

Ethnic considerations: The Premier made a foolish error after the last election by not appointing a Chinese person to Cabinet. He did add Ida Chong later in the mandate, and she will stay. Watch for Indo-Canadian Sindi Hawkins to return, and it makes political sense to have Surrey’s only Liberal Indo-Canadian, Dave Hayer, son of the slain newspaper editor, on board. Burnaby’s Richard Lee, who won by just a few dozen votes, may get a junior role.

Too few women: Although the Liberals had more female candidates than ever before, and more than the NDP, they saw most of them lose last month. Therefore, as well as Taylor and Hawkins, expect Shirley Bond to return to the table, and Richmond Centre’s Olga Illich to be chosen over longtime Richmond East MLA Linda Reid. Newcomers such as Mary Polak will have to earn their spurs, while re-elected Val Roddick would only be elevated beyond her capabilities simply because she is from Surrey.

Regional matters: As well as Hawkins, the Okanagan will see Tom Christensen back in, but maybe not in education -- my money is on him for Labour. On Vancouver Island, where pickings are slim, veteran ex-Socred Stan Hagen is a cinch for a prime post. In Kamloops, another ex-Socred and immediate past Speaker Claude Richmond should be given responsibility for the 2010 Olympics, Tourism and Small Business. Tourism needs its own stand-alone ministry.

I could, of course, be completely wrong! We’ll know by mid-June.

Veteran B.C. journalist/broadcaster John Pifer may be reached at


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