Premier Wade MacLauchlan unveiled his election-ready cabinet Wednesday – formalizing the team he hopes will help convince Islanders to re-elect his Liberal government. The date for the next provincial vote is increasingly a matter of much speculation, but will likely happen sooner than later.
It was a good time for a major shuffle, coming more than two and a half years after the premier led the party to victory. Changes were overdue.
The timing gives ministers the opportunity to become familiar with their new duties and departments prior to the early April opening of the spring sitting of the legislature.
The recent decision by two cabinet veterans – Finance Minister Allen Roach and Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Alan McIsaac - not to re-offer in the next election gave the premier the opportunity to make wholesale changes.
But with Mr. Roach’s departure, there is no one from Kings County in cabinet and eastern P.E.I. loses another strong voice with Mr. McIsaac’s decision. The two MLAs drop their cabinet workloads but must become more vocal advocates for eastern concerns inside caucus and government.
The lone newcomer is Chris Palmer, who won a Summerside byelection in 2016 and now has a chance to prove himself after a solid performance in the legislature. The premier offered a huge vote of confidence by naming him minister of Economic Development and Tourism, replacing Heath MacDonald.
Mr. MacDonald is entrusted with the crucial Finance portfolio and is aware that the highlight of coming spring session is the official unveiling of the balanced budget, a cornerstone of the government’s re-election hopes.
Mr. Roach did much of the heavy lifting at finance, where he was helped by a vibrant economy and strong growth in primary industries.
Jordan Brown retains the challenging education portfolio and the young lawyer adds the additional responsibilities of justice and public safety, and attorney general.
Those extra duties were shed by the premier, who is going to take a more active regional role across the province - a sort of minister at large.
Richard Brown, the Island’s longest-serving member, is back in cabinet where the durable MLA should be a strong performer as minister of Communities, Land and Environment.
Robert Henderson will benefit from his rural base in O’Leary as minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, two portfolios where he should do very well.
The huge department of health goes to Robert Mitchell, who also earns a thumbs-up from the premier for his work in guiding the new Municipalities Act through the legislature.
For whatever reason, Kathleen Casey remains outside cabinet, a decision that continues to confound most observers and pundits.
Apart from that, the premier did a reasonable job positioning people with their strengths and experience. The cabinet offers a solid, stay-the-course public face for Islanders, as the premier made good use of the resources he had available.
The loss of two veterans from cabinet does hurt, but the premier did his best to assure Islanders that steady hands remains at the helm.