Manitoba·Analysis

Manitoba election: Brian Pallister's cabinet contenders

Brian Pallister, Manitoba's next premier, has a tall order picking his cabinet from a historic bench of 40 Progressive Conservative caucus members, while reducing the size of cabinet by one-third.
Brian Pallister's strong majority win means he has a big team to pick from when forming his promised slimmed-down cabinet. (Michael Fazio/CBC)

Brian Pallister, Manitoba's next premier, has a tall order picking his cabinet from a historic bench of 40 Progressive Conservative caucus members, while reducing the size of cabinet by one-third.

Pallister will need to strike a very difficult balance when awarding the most senior roles in his government, in terms of rural versus urban constituencies, veteran Tories versus fresh faces, and diversity.

A lot of new PC voices took down strong incumbent New Democrats, and they will want to have their say in government. However, the Tory leader will need to reward many of the stalwarts who stood with the party through many years in opposition.

Throughout the campaign, the PC Party constantly touted the number of candidates who were women — a record for them. Given the emphasis placed on women within the election team, Pallister will have little choice but to feature women prominently on the cabinet team as well.

Here's a list of some of the PC MLAs who could be considered cabinet contenders in a Brian Pallister government:

Heather Stefanson, Tuxedo

The PC deputy leader is a sure bet for a senior cabinet position, possibly taking the arduous task of the Finance portfolio. Poised and polished, Stefanson is well-briefed on the toughest files of government. The Tuxedo MLA has held a number of important critic portfolios for the PC Opposition, including Finance, Status of Women and most recently, Jobs and the Economy.

Kelvin Goertzen, Steinbach

The other guarantee for a Pallister cabinet is the Steinbach MLA. First elected in 2003, Goertzen has held a number of critic portfolios, most notably Justice. He's a seasoned debater and consistently delivers the party's message with ease and comfort in front of the glaring lens of the media. Prior to his own election, Goertzen had extensive political experience as an assistant to an MLA, an MP and a provincial cabinet minister.

Myrna Driedger, Charleswood

As a woman and a registered nurse by trade, Driedger would play well in a Pallister cabinet. The Tory leader was under constant attack during the election campaign by New Democrats who said he would need to cut front-line services in order to find savings in government. If Pallister put a nurse in his Health portfolio, it would go a long way towards reiterating his commitment to keeping front-line workers and finding efficiencies elsewhere. The Charleswood MLA is also a stalwart who sat in opposition throughout the entire 16-year NDP mandate. Before entering politics, she was well accomplished in the health field as a nursing project co-ordinator and a hospital manager. She is also a former Manitoba president and national board member of the Canadian Association of Neurological and Neurosurgical Nurses.

Scott Fielding, Kirkfield Park

One of many, many new faces in Manitoba provincial politics, Fielding would provide a fresh perspective on Pallister's team. He has administration level experience in politics as a Winnipeg city councillor, serving as a member of former mayor Sam Katz's executive policy committee. Fielding was chair of the finance committee and chair of the Winnipeg Police Board. The two-term councillor also has a lot of name recognition and experience dealing with media.

Cathy Cox, River East

The former special assistant to River East PC MLA Bonnie Mitchelson has now replaced her as the member for the constituency. Cox has a lot of volunteer experience and would certainly have picked up a thing or two from Mitchelson, who is well-respected in the PC machine.

Steven Fletcher, Assiniboia

As a four-term member of Parliament, Fletcher held junior ministry positions in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's federal Conservative cabinet. As Pallister attempts to put together his cabinet team, he could look favourably at Fletcher's cabinet experience. Also, even though Fletcher is a newbie in provincial politics, his federal profile means he's a fresh face with a lot of name recognition.

Ron Schuler, St. Paul

First elected in 1999, Schuler is a great communicator with a lot of energy. Pallister will likely want to reward his years of service on the Opposition bench as the critic for a number of portfolios, including Manitoba Hydro and Consumer Affairs. Schuler was also a big organizer within the PC 2016 election machine, responsible for helping co-ordinate the ground game in northeast Winnipeg, where the PCs saw historic gains.

Ian Wishart, Portage La Prairie

During the NDP's last mandate, Wishart was on the front line of attack against a number of missteps by the NDP on Child and Family Services. As PC critic for the portfolio, he attacked the NDP for using hotels to house kids in state care and for temporarily changing the way kids in care were counted to exclude children in temporary placements. Before being elected in 2011, Wishart was vice-president and president of Keystone Agricultural Producers and served on the Canadian Federation of Agriculture executive.

Len Isleifson, Brandon East

In such a historic vote for change, a number of NDP giants fell, including Brandon East incumbent MLA and cabinet minister Drew Caldwell. As the man who ran the successful campaign against Caldwell, Isleifson could be rewarded with a cabinet position. The former Brandon city councillor has a fair amount of municipal government experience, including leadership rules such as deputy mayor. Pallister will also likely want to give a cabinet position to one of his MLAs from the second largest city in the province. It will no doubt be a challenge for Manitoba's next premier to pick between Isleifson and Brandon West PC MLA Reg Helwer. Helwar has been a strong Opposition voice for Pallister since being elected in 2011.

Kelly Bindle, Thompson

The lone PC voice in the North could be rewarded with a cabinet post to ensure regional representation. Bindle could also be rewarded for taking down longtime incumbent New Democrat Steve Ashton.

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