At first glance, rural Saskatchewan, the smaller cities and the north might appear to be the big loser in Premier Brad Wall’s recent cabinet shuffle.
Consider the evidence:
There are three new (or returning) rural MLAs entering cabinet in new Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart (Thunder Creek), Central Services Minister Nancy Heppner (Rosthern) and Rural and Remote Health Minister Randy Weekes (Biggar). But except for Stewart in agriculture (and one fully expects the minister of agriculture in Saskatchewan to be from the country) these new rural ministers aren’t taking on the larger portfolios.
Conversely, new urban cabinet ministers, including Regina Douglas Park’s Russ Marchuk in education and Saskatoon Northwest’s Gord Wyant in Justice whose portfolio is classified as one of the three super ministries, are immediately taking on bigger roles.
One might even suggest the newer rural cabinet ministers have less responsibility than out-going rural ministers Bob Bjornerud (agriculture), Jeremy Harrison (enterprise) and Yogi Huyghebaert (corrections and public safety). After all, Weekes’s new job would seem to be one without much spending authority and Heppner new portfolio does seems to be little more than a glorified version of the old Government Services office. Speaking of Heppner, she is now arguably the most northern minister in the province with the demotion of Meadow Lake’s Harrison out of the cabinet room.
And if rural Saskatchewan or the north didn’t seem to fare particularly well in this shuffle, smaller cities arguably fared worse with Meadow Lake (Harrison) and Prince Albert (Darryl Hickie) losing their cabinet table representations. Strangely, most of Saskatchewan’s smaller cities Prince Albert, Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Meadow Lake, Estevan and Yorkton will all be without cabinet representation now, this despite the fact that the Saskatchewan Party controls the majority of seats in every area in the province including all 29 rural Saskatchewan seats.
But the thing about cabinet shuffles is that they are complex beasts and often require more than a single glance to full appreciate their scope. And when you do step back and look at the bigger picture, rural Saskatchewan actually came out okay.
For starters, 11 of the 18 cabinet ministers (including Swift Current’s Brad Wall) are from what are traditionally described as rural seats. Any time you have a comfortable majority in cabinet, your issues will be heard at the cabinet table.
Notwithstanding the fact that some rural ministers lost some hefty portfolios (Don McMorris in health and Donna Harpauer in education), rural members are entrenched in nearly all the key cabinet seats. Besides Wall, Ken Krawetz in finance, and June Draude in social services, rural MLAs take on hefty responsibilities like Weyburn-Big Muddy’s Dustin Duncan in health (at the unheard of age of 32 years) Harpauer as Crown Investment Corp. Minister, Jim Reiter as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, and Tim McMillan as Energy Minister. One could certainly add to the list of cabinet heavyweights Stewart in agriculture and perhaps even McMorris in highways, given his additional individual Crown corporation responsibilities.
But the minister that surely can’t be overlooked is Kindersley’s Bill Boyd who, as the new super minister of the economy with McMillan working under him. Similarly, Duncan as health minister will have under him Weekes who will serve in the intriguing new rural and remote health issues. And it’s quite possible that Weekes’s portfolio represents the biggest win for rural Saskatchewan, depending on what he is able to accomplish. Not since the NDP days of rural development ministers (who usually weren’t exactly cabinet heavyweights, anyway) have we seen a Premier assign a minister to deal with what strictly amounts to rural-specific issues.
Perhaps this new posting won’t be much of anything, but the potential is certainly there.
So, all in all, it might have been a far better cabinet shuffle for rural Saskatchewan than it first seemed.