Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger has shuffled his cabinet, sending three ministers packing and moving his finance minister to another role.
“We’re at a reset stage in our life as a government,” Selinger said. “We have a good team here of both experienced people and new faces with new ideas and new engines.”
Stan Struthers, who was appointed as finance minister in October 2011 and recently took heat over the NDP's decision to raise the provincial sales tax, has been replaced by Jennifer Howard.
Howard was immediately bombarded by questions on Friday about how she’ll handle the fallout from the controversial PST hike.
“Every new job I’ve ever started, the best advice I ever got was to shut up and listen for the first little while and that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” Howard told reporters.
Struthers will shift his office over to become the minister of municipal government, while Kerri Irvin-Ross replaces Howard at the helm of child and family services.
Erin Selby is the new minister of health while former health minister Theresa Oswald has been put in charge of a newly-created portfolio, the department of jobs and economy.
Oswald will be working closely with Howard going forward.
“There’s really no question that what goes on in her portfolio now will have a direct effect on what happens in mine, and I believe vice versa,” said Oswald. “I think that we’re going to be spending a lot of quality time together.”
Selinger said Oswald’s portfolio will be the focus of government moving forward.
“We’re focusing very, very strongly on jobs and the economy,” he said.
Ron Lemieux has been named the minister of tourism, culture, sport and consumer protection.
Three backbenchers have also been promoted to cabinet — James Allum, Erna Braun, and Sharon Blady.
Allum is the new minister of education, Braun is the minister of labour and immigration, and Blady is in charge of healthy living and seniors.
To make room, Selinger has shuffled out three veteran ministers — Christine Melnick (immigration minister), Jim Rondeau, (consumer affairs minister), and Nancy Allan (education minister).
Allen was dropped after stick-handling a controversial anti-bullying bill through the legislature. Meanwhile, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson, who has come under fire for comments he made about the "ignorance of do-good white people," remains in his post.
The changes come halfway through the NDP's fourth consecutive mandate, and at a time when the government's popularity has dropped due to a sales tax increase.
Selinger called the shuffle a "reset" of the inner circle with a focus "on building a strong economy and on creating good jobs and opportunities for families."
"Despite uncertainty in the global economy, Manitoba has kept building and made so much progress. Unemployment is low, our economy is growing faster than the national average and we've built assets that are the envy of others," he said.
"I've brought together a team of experienced hands and new ministers who will keep Manitoba strong and moving forward by focusing on the basics."
Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh, Transportation Minister Steve Ashton and Attorney General Andrew Swan are all staying put.
The cabinet remains the same size at 19 ministers.
Opposition leader sounds off
Manitoba’s Tory leader Brian Pallister called the shuffle a distraction.
“It doesn’t really matter which NDP MLA they shuffle into which portfolio when not one of them stood up and opposed their tax hikes,” said Pallister. “It’s an attempt to distract from the real problems being faced by real Manitobans as a result of what the government has been doing tax wise, regulation wise, fee wise.”
The province’s Conservatives are set to hold their annual general meeting in Brandon over the weekend. Pallister said new policy and strategy will be revealed at the meeting, but he expects there will be a lot of talk about reducing the PST.