Nova Scotia·Opinion

Leo Glavine shouldn't quit over pharmacare changes, says Graham Steele

Changes to the Seniors’ Pharmacare program are a widening problem for the McNeil government.

No premier is going to give in to an opposition call for a resignation

Nova Scotia Health Minister Leo Glavine will not be forced to resign over the seniors' pharmacare controversy, says Graham Steele. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Changes to the seniors' pharmacare program are a widening problem for the McNeil government.

Does that mean Health Minister Leo Glavine should resign?

Of course not.

But that didn't stop both opposition parties calling for the minister's head this week. In doing so, they fell into a well-worn political rut.

After Darrell Dexter became NDP leader in 2000, our caucus adopted the policy of calling for a minister's resignation in only the rarest of circumstances.

It was a small piece of the move from being forever "shocked and appalled" to being more constructive, and it was sensible policy.

If we were going to call for a resignation, it had to carry weight. And it could not carry weight if we did it every few months, whenever something went wrong.

Over the ensuing decade, I can remember us calling for a resignation only once, maybe twice.

The one I remember distinctly was back in 2006. Ernie Fage, the economic development minister in John Hamm's cabinet, found himself in an alleged conflict of interest over a departmental loan.

We called on the minister to resign, and I remember feeling the significance of our words. A minister's dismissal was no small thing. It required careful consideration.

Shortly afterwards, Hamm accepted Fage's resignation.

Misplaced call

The other factor, of course, is that no premier is going to give in to an opposition call for a resignation. The premier has not yet been born who will say "I wasn't going to fire the minister, but now that the opposition is calling for it, I think I'll do it."

In fact, a misplaced call for resignation practically guarantees that the premier will leave a wayward minister in place.

Stephen McNeil is either stubborn or resolute, depending on whether you like his policies. Either way, there's no way he's going to dismiss a minister who's in a public pickle. He wouldn't give the opposition the satisfaction.

No, this premier's modus operandi is to solve his cabinet problems with a shuffle.

Film tax credit getting too hot? Shuffle the minister to another senior portfolio.

Not happy with the performance of a minister? Give them less to do, in a less prominent role.

Election-ready cabinet

It's a reasonable possibility that Leo Glavine will not run in the next election — he's been in the House since 2003 —and it's a time-honoured tradition to ease out retiring ministers in advance of an election.

The Tories did it prominently with Jamie Muir in 2008, and that's the excuse I used to ease myself out of cabinet in 2012.

If Stephen McNeil is not happy with Leo Glavine's handling of health, that's the way he'd move Leo out and move a fresh face in. Hit the third anniversary of the mandate in October, then form an election-ready cabinet.

Bob's your uncle and Leo's your ex-minister. Boom. Easy.

Impossible job

In any event, I don't believe that the premier is unhappy with Glavine's performance.

Sure, the Liberals could have done without all this pharmacare fuss, but McNeil knows that being the health minister is the only impossible job in cabinet.

It's a tougher job than being premier (really).

The number and difficulty of the issues in health, and the number and fierceness of entrenched health-care interests, is enough to make Solomon weep.

It is beyond the capacity of any single person to exert meaningful control over such a complex system. It would make more sense for half the cabinet to be health ministers.

One of them could be the senior minister, and the others could be associate ministers responsible for the other big pieces of the health-care puzzle: people, infrastructure, quality, long-term care, acute care, and pharmacare.

At least that would make more sense than the current system, where we have one health minister who can barely hang on, sitting around the table with a bunch of mini-ministers who are responsible for not very much at all.

Made mistakes

Leo Glavine has made mistakes. We all would have if we were sitting in his chair. That's not an excuse. It's an admission of reality.

He has undoubtedly made things worse by acquiescing to a politically driven public relations campaign on the pharmacare changes.

He is duty-bound to take ministerial responsibility for the mess, and it would help considerably if he also took personal responsibility.

But resign? No way.

About the Author

Graham Steele

Political analyst

Graham Steele is a former MLA who was elected four times as a New Democrat for the constituency of Halifax Fairview. He also served as finance minister. Steele is now a political analyst for CBC News.

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