There is one new face, one new department and major changes to another ministry after Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister shuffled his cabinet Thursday.

Jeff Wharton, Gimli MLA, was sworn in as minister of municipal relations, a newly created department. The portfolio was previously one of two overseen by Eileen Clarke.

"Jeff has demonstrated some qualities that have been exemplary," Pallister said, pointing to his work ethic and team skills. "He's very, very encouraging and supportive to his colleagues."

Pallister praised Wharton's "very strong background, specifically in municipal politics."

Wharton's previous political experience includes three years serving on the Winnipeg Beach town council where he also served as deputy mayor. He has also served on several local boards. A former businessman, Wharton purchased Winnipeg's Globe Moving and Storage in 1989 and grew the business until it was sold in 2010.

​Clarke, Agassiz MLA, will now oversee the ministry of Indigenous and northern relations, previously the ministry of Indigenous and municipal relations. 

Cabinet grows

No ministers were shuffled out of cabinet and Pallister said no one was promoted or demoted in the shuffle 

The number of ministers in cabinet rises by one to 13.

Andrew Micklefield was dropped as house leader, which is not a cabinet position. That job now goes to Cliff Cullen, who also takes on the Crown services portfolio. 

NDP MLA Andrew Swan said he approved of the decision to make Indigenous relations it's own department, but he said the premier missed an opportunity to diversify his cabinet.

"I do wish Minister Clarke all the best in what I know will be a challenging and difficult portfolio," he said.

Swan said the premier had an opportunity to add another woman to cabinet but chose not to take it. "We saw some shuffling of women in portfolios, but nothing you could really see as a woman taking a job away from a man."

Shuffling his cabinet 16 months after taking power seemed like a strange move for Pallister to make, Swan said. "It might be a diversion and a distraction. It has not been a very good summer for the premier and this government."

Pallister adds new face, new department in cabinet shuffle2:12

'A shell game'

Recently ousted Tory MLA Steven Fletcher also downplayed the significance of the cabinet shuffle. 

"A cabinet shuffle is a shell game that doesn't really matter because the power or the decisions are made in the premier's office. And we see that time and time again."

Fletcher was kicked out of the PC caucus earlier this summer.

When asked why there was no restructuring of the health portfolio, Pallister said junior ministers were helping current minister Kelvin Goertzen handle various files.

"That work is getting done not necessarily by adding additional cabinet ministers, but by having assignments [given to junior ministers] that are important," he said.

Pallister said he considered many options for his first shuffle.

New mandate letters will soon be given to the ministers and they will be made public. 

The letters, he said, will contain more direction for building on the previous mandate letters ministers received in 2016.

Six ministers have new portfolios, including:

  • Ron Schuler (St. Paul) moves from Crown services to infrastructure.
  • Cliff Cullen (Spruce Woods) moves from growth, enterprise and trade to Crown services and also becomes government house leader.
  • Blaine Pedersen (Midland) moves from infrastructure to growth, enterprise and trade.
  • Cathy Cox (River East) is now minister of sport, culture and heritage, moving from sustainable development.
  • Rochelle Squires (Riel) moves from sport, culture and heritage to minister of sustainable development and minister responsible for francophone affairs and status of women.

The following ministers stay in their current portfolios:

  • Brian Pallister (Fort Whyte) – premier and president of the executive council, and minister of intergovernmental affairs and international relations.
  • Heather Stefanson (Tuxedo) – minister of justice, attorney general and deputy premier.
  • Kelvin Goertzen (Steinbach) – minister of health, seniors and active living.
  • Ralph Eichler (Lakeside) – minister of agriculture.
  • Cameron Friesen (Morden-Winkler) – minister of finance, minister responsible for the civil service.
  • Ian Wishart (Portage la Prairie) – minister of education and training.
  • Scott Fielding (Kirkfield Park) – minister of families.
With files from Sean Kavanaugh