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The Globe and Mail

Cabinet moves make it even harder for Christy Clark to unite caucus

When you're a new Canadian Premier who won a party leadership with almost no support from within the existing government caucus, your first cabinet is as much about politics as talent.

And B.C. Premier Christy Clark's new 18-member executive council is certainly that. But by deciding to go with a smaller group, reducing the number of ministers around the table by five from the previous administration, Ms. Clark made the job of keeping her caucus happy and united even harder.

The fact that she dumped two incredibly brainy women from cabinet, and kept or promoted other, less accomplished politicians, will also have many questioning the criteria that was used to make some of the selections. But certainly Moira Stilwell and Margaret MacDiarmid, both acclaimed physicians who were sought-after candidates for the Liberals, deserved a better fate than what they got in this cabinet shuffle.

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Instead, both women were named parliamentary secretaries.

Who knows what Ms. Clark has against them? When asked about Dr. Stilwell, who most expected to receive a major portfolio, the Premier said she was a victim of "tough choices." But the good news, said the Premier, is that parliamentary secretaries will be expected to play a more significant role in her government.

Back in 2004, Ms. Clark, then a high-profile education minister in Gordon Campbell's government, was furious when the then-premier asked her to serve as children and family services minister. It's a ministry with a reputation as a career killer and Ms. Clark wanted no part of it. Mr. Campbell forced her to take it anyway and she quit six months later.

Given this historical context, perhaps the new Premier can try to extend a little knowing sympathy to those who have been demoted or booted out of cabinet entirely.

What's equally perplexing is that the Premier kept Mary Polak in cabinet, a minister Ms. Clark once eviscerated on radio for the inept job she felt she was doing in the same Children and Family Services Ministry she once wanted no part of. In this shuffle, the Premier moved Ms. Polak to aboriginal relations, signalling a major downgrade of the importance of that ministry in a Clark government.

But this is where politics comes into things.

The B.C. Liberal Party is a coalition of federal Liberals and Conservatives. Ms. Clark represents the Liberal wing of the party. Kevin Falcon, her chief rival for the leadership, represents the Conservative side.

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It was little surprise then that Ms. Clark made Mr. Falcon Finance Minister and Deputy Premier. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, as they say. By my count there are at least six members of the cabinet who represent the Conservative base of the party, including Ms. Polak, who was a Falcon supporter during the leadership.

Still, having Mr. Falcon in a solid power position inside cabinet may not be enough to quell the rumblings of unhappiness being detected inside caucus. There are people such as former solicitor-general John van Dongen, who supported George Abbott for leader, who told anyone he could during the campaign Ms. Clark was unfit to govern.

There is also lingering resentment over the nature of Ms. Clark's leadership run. That would be the fact she left government when she didn't get her way, only to return when the top job was available. And because she was in radio while many of her former colleagues were fighting it out in the political trenches, she was untainted by unpopular policies such as the HST.

Others are also not thrilled that Blair Lekstrom was promoted to cabinet on Monday. While a popular MLA, Mr. Lekstrom left the Liberal caucus last year because of differences he had with the government over the way the HST was rolled out and being implemented. While on the outside, he was quite vocal in his criticisms of Mr. Campbell and the government.

Now Mr. Lekstrom's in cabinet while many of the loyalists who stayed around and took the heat over the HST were overlooked or turfed.

There are always some hard feelings after a cabinet shuffle because there are inevitably winners and losers. But those feelings seem to be exacerbated in this case because of the special circumstances surrounding Ms. Clark's victory.

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Whether they develop into something more serious for the new Premier will be worth monitoring.

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