Opinion

Clark Cabinet Tests Liberal Loyalty

Will those chopped leave for another party? BC Conservatives are hoping.

By Bill Tieleman 15 Mar 2011 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

"There were two kinds of chairs to go with two kinds of ministers: one sort that folds up instantly, the other sort goes round and round in circles." -- "Bernard Woolley" in Yes Minister TV series

Premier Christy Clark put her own face on the 11-year-old BC Liberal government -- and her foot on the throats of many veteran cabinet ministers.

Clark and her new cabinet were sworn in Monday afternoon -- and the new premier was likely sworn at privately by enough ex-ministers to populate a sizeable government committee.

And then there are all those who didn't get from the backbench into her downsized 18-member cabinet.

The big question now is whether angry BC Liberal MLAs who are left out decide to leave caucus and join the BC Conservative Party or some other political entity, retire or just grumble.

Heading the list: ex-finance minister Colin Hansen -- paying for helping former premier Gordon Campbell impose the HST -- or for his last-minute endorsement of losing leadership candidate Kevin Falcon, now finance minister and deputy premier.

Clark would dearly love Hansen to resign and let her take over his Vancouver-Quilchena seat -- one of the BC Liberals' safest.

Others who take a huge pay cut for being exiled from cabinet and could cause trouble include Moira Stilwell, who ran for leader before dropping out to support not Clark but George Abbott. Big mistake -- big price.

And it can't be easy for Margaret MacDiarmid, Murray Coell, Iain Black, Kevin Krueger, Ben Stewart, John Yap and Randy Hawes to go from ministers to minions with no likelihood of returning to cabinet ranks so long as Clark remains leader.

Some of the departed become "parliamentary secretaries" for a little extra scratch but they won't be at the big table making key decisions or running ministries.

It can't make them any happier to see Blair Lekstrom, who quit not just cabinet but caucus over his riding's opposition to the Harmonized Sales Tax, now rewarded by becoming transportation minister.

Hidden tensions

While Clark and her supporters will put the perpetual happy face smile on her new government, seething tensions remain barely hidden.

In addition to the resentment of those left out, the dominant internal BC Liberal Party debate is whether Clark and her staff choices have shifted the so-called "free enterprise" coalition too far in favour of federal Liberals and against federal Conservatives.

Prominent federal Conservative John Reynolds warned before the leadership vote that Clark would split the coalition. The Falcon supporter and long-time Conservative MP says now he'll give Clark a chance -- but don't count on it lasting long.

Respected Conservative MP John Cummins is retiring to either run for BC Conservative Party leader or otherwise assist the party in the next election -- not good news for Clark. She fears a right-of-centre split vote that could let the New Democrats under their own new leader win the next election.

But many B.C. voters will not accept a federal Liberal premier, staffed by former federal Liberal candidates and supporters, implementing a federal Liberal-style agenda -- including a carbon tax and HST.

With prominent long-time federal Liberal Party activists like her own chief of staff Mike McDonald and deputy chief of staff operations Kim Haakstad, among others, the federal Conservative side of the coalition is going to be nervous to downright hostile towards Clark's team.

"Our government recognizes that it is time for a change," Clark said Monday.

What shape that change takes is up to voters, not Clark, however -- and change is never predictable in B.C. politics.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Elections

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