Gallant's cabinet shuffle brings geography-bending oddities
Ridings divided up in uneven and curious way in government's attempt to represent regions
Premier Brian Gallant's appointment of himself as regional minister for Saint John wasn't the only geography-bending move in last week's cabinet shuffle.
In a little-noticed move, Gallant also appointed four top ministers as "regional ministers" charged with overseeing different areas of the province.
But the way the ridings are divided up is uneven and, in some cases, downright curious.
Gallant and Deputy Premier Stephen Horsman are responsible for six ridings each. Finance Minister Cathy Rogers and Environment Minister Serge Rousselle, meanwhile, have 11 each.
Transportation Minister Bill Fraser has the remainder — a whopping 15 ridings that cover communities from Neguac in the northeast to Grand Bay-Westfield in the southwest.
It's a division of labour that baffles political scientist J.P. Lewis of the University of New Brunswick in Saint John.
"What's the point of MLAs, then, if we're thinking about representation in these areas?" Lewis said.
"So that's odd in itself. I'm not sure what the math behind that would have been."
There are other oddities. Gallant's riding is Shediac Bay-Dieppe, but he's the minister responsible for Saint John and southwest New Brunswick.
Say in a cabinet committee meeting, if they're going over something for the budget, does Cathy Rogers speak to what Finance wants to do but then also defend something in Riverview?- J.P. Lewis, political scientist
That turf does not include, however, communities that are normally considered part of greater Saint John.
Rothesay, Quispamsis, and Kings Centre — the riding that includes Grand Bay-Westfield — are part of Fraser's territory.
And Rogers has the premier's riding among the 11 for which she is responsible
That may confuse residents, who will wonder if it's better to lobby Gallant, their MLA, or Rogers, their regional minister.
Gallant said in a news release last week that the previous "informal system" of regional ministers was being "formalized" with the choice of the five ministers who will "advocate" for their regions.
"The strong regional ministers appointed today will listen to the ideas and suggestions of the people in their regions in order to get things done that will grow the economy, improve education and strengthen health care in all corners of New Brunswick," he told reporters.
Who speaks for riding?
Lewis said the system presents other complications.
"Say in a cabinet committee meeting, if they're going over something for the budget, does Cathy Rogers speak to what Finance wants to do but then also defend something in Riverview?" he asked.
"I don't know how that will work itself in the mechanisms of cabinet decision-making."
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A formal regional-minister structure has been a staple of federal politics. Traditionally, a minister was politically responsible for a province or a major region of a province, often keeping an eye on spending projects and federal appointments.
Federal regional ministers were also equipped with extra offices and staff.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did away with the system when he took power in 2015.
Won't cost more, Gallant says
Bernard Lord was the first New Brunswick premier to designate regional ministers and give them extra staff.
Gallant's office said there will be no new staff, budget or spending now that the role has been "formalized."
Lewis said there's clearly a political motive to the arrangement, given the next election is just a year away.
"Maybe it's trying to say that just because you don't have an MLA from your riding in cabinet, you are represented," he said.
But that would be a strange rationale, he said, because it would confirm cabinet is "a political tool" that is further eclipsing the role of MLAs as representatives of their ridings.