Finance, health, education all get new ministers in Manitoba cabinet shuffle

WINNIPEG – Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger pressed the reset button on his NDP government Friday — demoting his troubled finance minister and dumping three others from cabinet.

Stan Struthers, who raised the provincial sales tax to eight per cent from seven per cent in last April’s budget, has been shunted to municipal government — excluding the City of Winnipeg —and minister in charge of Manitoba Hydro.

“We’re at a reset stage in our life as a government. We’re looking forward to focusing very, very strongly on jobs and the economy,” Selinger said.

“Every government, at mid-term, takes a look at how things are going and decides how they want to focus their agenda for the next two years.”

Struthers told reporters he does not see the change as a demotion.

“I don’t see it that way. I’m very much looking forward to working in Manitoba Hydro and working towards building our economy. I’m really keen on starting to work with the municipalities.”

Three ministers were left off the revamped cabinet. Christine Melnick, who had already seen her responsibilities shrink to immigration and multiculturalism; Nancy Allan, the education minister who stick-handled a controversial anti-bullying bill through the legislature and is rumoured to be not running for re-election; and Jim Rondeau, who had been considered a strong performer in healthy living and as minister in charge of the provincial liquor corporation.

Selinger would not say whether the three were pushed out or had asked to leave.

“These are all decisions that I make as the lead minister and … the people that have stepped aside have recognized the need for new blood to come in. They have played a stellar role in their responsibilities and they will continue to play a stellar role.”

Some existing ministers are getting big promotions.

Jennifer Howard moves from family services and labour to finance. Howard has also served as the government’s house leader and is arguably its best performer in question period.

Erin Selby has moved from advanced education to health. She replaces Theresa Oswald, who spent seven years in the demanding portfolio. Oswald becomes the minister for jobs and the economy — a key role in the government’s new focus.

“While it’s been an unbelievably great honour to be Manitoba’s minister of health for as long as I was, certainly I was interested in a change and growing and learning in new ways,” she said.

Howard and Oswald, along with Selinger, will now be the point people for the government’s battle with the Opposition Progressive Conservatives, who have climbed in recent opinion polls and have attacked the sales tax increase as unnecessary.

Howard also bears the task of fulfilling the government’s promise to balance the books by the 2016-17 fiscal year. That target has already been pushed back from an original date of 2014-15. The government’s deficit last year came in $120 million higher than expected at $580 million.

“I’m two minutes into the job, but (2017) is the commitment we’ve made and we’re going to do our best to live up to that commitment,” Howard said.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson, who came under fire this summer for comments he made about the “ignorance of do-good white people” in relation to a women’s shelter, remains in his post.

Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh, Transportation Minister Steve Ashton and Attorney General Andrew Swan — three veterans — are staying put as well.

Sharon Blady, James Allum and Erna Braun have all been elevated from the backbenches. Blady, who narrowly won a former Tory stronghold in Winnipeg in 2007 and 2011, is the new minister of healthy living.

Allum takes over education. Braun becomes minister of labour and immigration.

Kevin Chief stays as minister for children and youth opportunities and also takes on a newly created role as minister responsible for the City of Winnipeg.

The cabinet remains the same size at 19 ministers.

The Tories said the cabinet shuffle does nothing to address the sales tax issue, which broke a NDP election campaign promise not to raise the PST.

“It does not matter where they sit, the NDP (ministers) all broke their promise on tax increases,” Tory Leader Brian Pallister said in a statement.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Selby’s first name was Eric.