Monthly Archives: June 2009

Cabinet Shuffles, Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

This is the second of three in The Political Animal’s look at last Monday’s substantial cabinet shuffle. Part one focused on Greg Byrne, Victor Boudreau, and Kelly Lamrock and can be found here.  A third part will come tomorrow.  We left off last time with the Greek tragedy that is Kelly Lamrock, so we’ll begin today with…

Roland Haché, the new Education Minister. Haché comes to education from the Environment Department where, to be honest, he was mostly invisible.  I didn’t even remember he was Environment Minister until Monday evening. That’s partly a function of how low a priority the environment is to the government (especially with the whole economic “Self-Sufficiency” credo) but also a function of how the environment has fallen of the map of political issues in today’s Economic S**tshow.

That said, Haché earned a record in Environment – a good one – primarily because of his last announcement as Environment Minister, a ban on the sale and use of cosmetic pesticides. The ban came after public consultation last summer supported the cosmetic pesticide ban over pesticide education, a voluntary ban, and a ban on all pesticides, cosmetic or not. Everyone, even the PCs, agree with the ban.

His smooth handling of a potentially contetious issue (visit most municipal council chambers when the discussion comes up) is the reason why he’s the new Education Minister. This issue makes him look like the anti-Lamrock: conciliatory instead of contentious, a listner rather than a fighter, and much more humble than his predecessor. Even during his first week he started to repair one bridge in the department by freezing the controversial Intensive Learning Fund, with speculation growing that the entire fund may be redirected to keep 300 school support and librarian jobs. Another reason why Haché finds himself in education may have to do Lamrock’s last major act as education minister, the release of a report into the Francophone school system. The government may think it’s better to have a francophone act on the report, which recommends more standardized testing and more recruitment from mixed-language families.

Haché’s responsabilities: improve the French school system, and find a solution to the ILF/Support Worker issue that won’t cause mass panic and concern after Labour Day.

T. J. Burke to Environment. Not even the moves of Lamrock and Mike Murphy were as necessary and as painfully obvious as Burke’s, and no minister got anywhere near as serious a demotion as the former Attorney-General. Burke’s problems began in March, when a UNB law student filed an affidavit alleging Burke said to the wrongfully convicted Erin Walsh “had once killed a man” and was addicted to drugs at the time of his arrest for murder. Now dying of colon cancer, Walsh is suing, among others, the Attorney-General of New Brunswick for his wrongful convistion on that murder charge. Shawn Graham immediately took Burke off the Walsh case, whish effectively made Burke a lame-duck A-G. If you’re a lawyer and you’re taken off a case involving your own office, thet’s a pretty sure sign it won’t be your office much longer.

Still, the rumours were circulating that Burke would replace Lamrock in education and those rumours may just have come to fruition had Burke not gotten into an argument with a judge. But not just any judge, mind you, but the Hon. David Smith, Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench. In a speech to the Mocton Rotary Club, Smith criticized the government for eliminating small claims courts and cutting back family court social workers and legal aid. Smith was reluctant to make the remarks for fear of treading into that disreputable world of politics, but did so anyway because he thought the cuts would have a seriously bad effect on the justice system. Burke, predictably, criticized to law enforcer for critizing the lawmakers, but went a step or two too far in doing so. Discussing Smith’s idea of a more independant court system with more judicial control, as the Republic of Ireland has, Burke said “If chief justice Smith thinks it’s so great in Ireland, then, then, maybe they need a judge over in Ireland. I don’t know.”

Burke also felt the heat over the appointment of his former law partner and stepfather to the board of WorkSafe NB despite the opposition of said board, but it likely didn’t play a role in his shuffle. Rather, his impolitic and immature comments about one of the province’s most prominent judges sealed his move to Environment, a department where he only has to shut up and not let anything get out of hand. Nobody at 706 Queen Street really cares much for environmental initiatives right now, anyway. Besides, Burke should try to shore up support in his riding of Fredericton-Nashwaaksis, which he only won by 157 votes last time around. His latest gaffes would not have won him any support.

Sunday, part 3 of Cabinet Shuffles will feature Michael Murphy and Mary Schryer.

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Around the House (In Memorium edition)

  • Well, I think everybody has heard about the death of former Governor-General Romeo Leblanc. Over his 81 years, he was a teacher, father, broadcaster, press secretary, cabinet minister, senator, Speaker of the Senate, and viceroy. Above all, though, he was proud to be a Canadian, a New Brunswicker, and an Acadian. Without a doubt, he’s one of the most respected public figures this province has produced, up there with Louis Robichaud and Richard Hatfield. He will be missed, and all the best to his family.
  • Apart from his term as Governor-General, where he inaugurated National Aboriginal Day, the Governor-General’s Caring Canadian Awards, and the Governor-General’s Awards for Visual and Media Arts, Leblanc will be best known as the longest serving Fisheries Minister to date. Famously, he banned foreign corporations from owning commercial fishing licenses and created Canada’s 200-mile fishing limit. Yesterday, As It Happens replayed an interview Leblanc had with Barbara Frum about that revolutionary limit, and it can be found here. The segment is second in the running order, starting at the 10:25 mark, and also includes memories from his son, Dominic, the Liberal MLA for Beausejour.
  • Despite M. Leblanc’s death, the New Brunswick political cycle continues. This time, it’s with news that the RCMP is taking another look at a complaint that the Saint John Police Force used the federal criminal database to search the file of one Erin Walsh. The database is only supposed to be used for police work, which could be taken by a judge to mean open criminal investigations, something Walsh has not been the subject of since 1975. Where’s the politics in that, you say? Well, Walsh was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1975. The conviction was thrown out last year and Walsh filed suit against the then-Crown attorney who prosecuted his case, the Saint John Police Force, and the Federal and Provincial Attorney-General. In most provinces, the plaintiffs would have paid Walsh an undisclosed but substantial sum of money, an inquiry of some sort would be called, the province would act on recommendations, and the story would end. In New Brunswick, however, no money changes hands and the then-AG (T.J. Burke) gets in trouble for allegedly painting an unpleasant picture of Walsh with a UNB law class, and book remains open. Some believe the government hasn’t settled the case yet because Walsh is dying of colon cancer and his estate would receive a much less substantial award if he dies before a decision. If Walsh wins his case (which is likely) and if he dies before the decision (also likely, considering the average person with his condition would already be dead), the judge should take this into consideration when deciding the award.  The province should be embarrassed over the handling of this case.
  • Quote:

“If I am to be known for anything, I would like it to be for encouraging Canadians, for knowing a little bit about their daily, extraordinary courage. And for wanting that courage to be recognized.” – Romeo Leblanc.

  • In focus:
    Cartoon by Michael De Adder, published in all the New Brunswick daily newspapers today.

    Cartoon by Michael De Adder, published in all the New Brunswick daily newspapers today.

    Romeo Leblanc, 1927-2009

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Cabinet Shuffles, Part 1

The cards Shawn Graham has shuffled: will it be a good deal? (photo c/o The Daily Gleaner)

The cards Shawn Graham has shuffled: will it be a good deal? (photo c/o The Daily Gleaner)

Unless you’re out of the province or just tuned out of New Brunswick politics recently, you read about Monday’s long rumored (and probably long overdue) cabinet shuffle. A third of the cabinet find themselves in new portfolios, including several, ahem, controversial ministers. Over the next two posts, I’ll provide  a rundown of who went where, why (I think, at least) they got their new job, and what the new ministers can expect to deal with in their new portfolio. Here’s part 1.

Greg Byrne to Finance, Victor Boudreau to Business New Brunswick. The only straight portfolio swap of shuffle, the reasons behind this one were practical rather than political. Byrne’s had cardiac surgery last month and his health still isn’t the greatest. Since BNB is one of the more travel-intensive portfolios (the department is in charge of economic development, mainly attracting business from elsewhere to New Brunswick), he had to transfer to a department where he could stay at home more.

Both Byrne and Boudreau are two of the most competent members of cabinet, each in high-profile roles of great importance to the government and its self-sufficiency agenda. Boudreau has not been personally blamed for the budget (the government as a whole and, to lesser extents, Kelly Lamrock and Shawn Graham have been most tarnished by it) and seems highly trusted by the premier. He’ll have to deal with the controversial $50-million loan guarantee to Miramichi construction firm Atcon and the practical bankruptcy of Dieppe’s Royal Oaks Golf Club, which the province is into to the tune of $4.8-million. As for Greg Byrne, he seems to be off the hook until the fall sitting of the Legislature, which will give him plenty of time to recuperate. His health is now vitally important to the government, especially since the illness and death of Michael Baker, formerly Nova Scotia’s Finance Minister, caused unneeded chaos and delays in both the department and the legislature and likely contributed to the scale of Rodney MacDonald’s defeat.

Kelly Lamrock to Social Services. Lamrock got to keep his job last fall, even after the French Immersion debacle last summer, because there were still a good many people (including some in government) thought he honestly believed his changes would help the education system. Not only that, but he managed to negotiate a new contract with the teachers’ union, saving thousands of New Brunswick students from the kind of work-to-rule job action that scuttled sports seasons, musicals, and Reach for the Top (grumble) for everyone in 2005. In fact, since the French Immersion restructoring (read: cuts) last spring, Lamrock has been as much the face of the government as Premier Graham.

Then came this spring.

First, Kelly decided to play chicken with that shiny new teachers’ contract, telling them he’d have to cut teacher’s aides, school librarians, and support workers if they didn’t agree to a two year wage freeze right now. The teachers, understandibly, declined, and Lamrock cut the aides, librarians, and support staff. His critics (also understandibly) pointed out that he did not cut the Intensive Learning Fund, a $10-million fund created by Lamrock to fund innovative teaching techniques. Funnily enough, only Lamrock seemed to value the aides et al more than the ILF. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was this e-mail exchange with an eighth grade student about said cuts, initially posted on Facebook and then CBC’s Spin Reduxit blog. You can read the full exchange and judge for yourself, but to me, Lamrock’s responses (again, let me emphasize TO AN EIGHTH GRADE STUDENT) came across as condescending, heavy-handed, and fairly insulting. As during the EFI debacle, it made him look arrogant, hubristic, and more concerned over his own ideas than the education of this province’s students. It was clear, I think, even to him that he couldn’t be education minister anymore.

So he’s in social services now, a department where he can’t really do much harm right now. There’s a court case pending involving nursing home workers and the two-year wage freeze, but he’d really have to do something stupid with it to generate as much bad press as he did in education.  His job is pretty simple right now: pose for photos whenever a new daycare or nursing home opens or breaks ground, don’t get in the way of the department doing its job, and just shut up for awhile, at least until after the next election. The Liberal Party of New Brunswick will thank him later.

In Part 2, Roland Hache, T.J. Burke, Mike Murphy, and Mary Schryer.

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