Brian Pallister tweeted out a photo of the hands of his cabinet picks joined in unity just prior to the swearing-in ceremony today in Winnipeg. It prompted this comment from a Winnipeg Free Press reporter: “Great photo. Dare I say, a little bit Justin?”
Then, Pallister led his team down a long, winding ramp towards the ceremony area in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, a moment captured nicely as you can see by Ed White of The Western Producer. It brought to my mind the now famous image of Donald Trump and his family taking a very long escalator ride down to where he announced his candidacy for the Republican Party nomination.
The cabinet Premier Pallister revealed during the ceremony officiated by Manitoba Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon was also something very unexpected in many respects. Pared down from the NDP’s 18 to a dozen (as promised during the election), it grouped a number of portfolios together that haven’t been mated before. Such as Eileen Clarke (MLA for Agassiz) now minister of Indigenous and municipal relations.
Pallister also did, in many respects, opt for experience over fresh faces, or meeting the ‘new thing’ in Canada of having a 50/50 gender split. It’s something he has previously said he will strive for in the future. One-third of his cabinet are women.
Pallister did leave Brandon out in the cold. Something the NDP also did for years.
However, by having Cliff Cullen in cabinet — the photo here is a screen grab from CBC — Pallister did the next best thing. Cullen’s sprawling Spruce Woods constituency encircles Brandon and he is often seen in the province’s second-largest city.
In a rural media call the day after the PC Party won its history-making landslide majority, Pallister wouldn’t confirm or deny in an answer to my question if Brandon would be represented at the cabinet table.
And Cullen does have a few years more in the Manitoba Legislature than Brandon West MLA Reg Helwer, and rookie Brandon East MLA Len Isleifson. Helwer is seen in this column captured in a photo Tweeted out by MLA Jon Reyes (St. Norbert) just prior to the ceremony. To me the photo speaks 1,000 words.
An interesting Tory touch in the list of portfolios was a lack of a minister named for the labour file. It signalled the province isn’t going to be ruled by the unions, as it was under the NDP. However, it was later announced that Cullen will be largely responsible for that file.
So who is Cliff Cullen? Well, first off, he’s a really nice guy. I’ve met him many times at various events and he’s always open to chatting about issues of the day. His government bio states he was elected as the MLA for Turtle Mountain in 2004 and re-elected in 2007. In 2011 and 2016, he was re-elected in the new constituency of Spruce Woods.
Cullen earned a diploma in agriculture from the University of Manitoba and worked in the agricultural and environmental sectors, serving as president of the Manitoba Weed Supervisors Association and as provincial manager of the Association for a Clean Rural Environment. Cullen and his wife Marilyn, a Grade 5 & 6 teacher at the Glenboro School, have three sons: Braydon; Addison; and Colby.
I used to write columns in the Brandon Sun lambasting the NDP regime for leaving Brandon out of cabinet. Brandon East was its only holding in Westman and its rep, Drew Caldwell, was passed over for a cabinet post in recent years until 2014 when he backed former premier Greg Selinger in the infamous caucus revolt.
The Tories now hold every seat in Westman — and all of Western Manitoba, for that matter. The cabinet table will have eight rural ministers, a nice change from the urban-weighted NDP room.
I believe Cullen will serve the Wheat City well — perhaps not as well as one of our MLAs, but I’m hopeful — and will also lobby for repairs to the many horrible rural highways around greater Brandon. And people need to remember Premier Pallister has deep roots in Brandon, having attended Brandon University and once played for the Bobcats basketball team.
Overall, Pallister did do well to fill his cabinet with women, but his choices ran against many people’s predictions. Especially with Myrna Driedger (Charleswood), the Tories' longest-standing MLA, making a run for speaker. That vote of the whole House will be made prior to the May 16 throne speech. Driedger, a former nurse, was the Tories’ longstanding health critic.
Here’s the complete list of the new cabinet:
• Brian Pallister (MLA for Fort Whyte) – premier and president of the executive council; minister of intergovernmental affairs and international relations;
• Heather Stefanson (MLA for Tuxedo) – minister of justice and attorney general, Keeper of the Great Seal of the Province of Manitoba, deputy premier;
• Cameron Friesen (MLA for Morden-Winkler) – minister of finance;
• Kelvin Goertzen (MLA for Steinbach) – minister of health, seniors and active living;
• Ian Wishart (MLA for Portage la Prairie) – minister of education and training;
• Scott Fielding (MLA for Kirkfield Park) – minister of families;
• Blaine Pedersen (MLA for Midland) – minister of infrastructure;
• Eileen Clarke (MLA for Agassiz) – minister of Indigenous and municipal relations;
• Cathy Cox (MLA for River East) – minister of sustainable development;
• Cliff Cullen (MLA for Spruce Woods) – minister of growth, enterprise and trade;
• Ralph Eichler (MLA for Lakeside) – minister of agriculture;
• Rochelle Squires (MLA for Riel) – minister of sport, culture and heritage and minister responsible for francophone affairs and status of women; and
• Ron Schuler (MLA for St. Paul) – minister of Crown services.
Pallister also announced Goertzen will be the government house leader and Jon Reyes has been appointed the military envoy.
Here’s the list of my predictions made last week:
• Steven Fletcher (Assiniboia) X
• Reg Helwer (Brandon West) X
• Myrna Driedger (Charleswood) X
• Scott Fielding (Kirkfield Park)
• Blaine Pederson (Midland)
• Shannon Martin (Morris) X
• Ian Wishart (Portage la Prairie)
• Rochelle Squires (Riel)
• Janice Morley Lecomte (Seine River) X
• Kelvin Goertzen (Steinbach)
• Kelly Bindle (Thompson) X
• Heather Stefanson (Tuxedo)
Half of my list was wrong. And I had Schuler pegged for House Speaker. Geez.
With the NDP looking to choose Flor Marcelino (Logan) as its interim leader — yeah, she’s the one who used to nod off during QP and said Cheez Whiz could be an adequate substitute for milk in the north — it should be an interesting session.
“Our team’s plan for a better Manitoba with lower taxes, better services and a stronger economy was overwhelmingly endorsed by Manitobans,” Pallister said in a media release issued as he was being sworn in. “We know the job ahead of us will not be easy, but this is the right team to get Manitoba back on track.”
Later, he emotionally said during the ceremony: “I pledge my head to clear thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living for my province, my country and our earth.”
I have a call into Minister Cullen for an interview, but I hadn’t heard from him by the time I filed this column. When I do, I’ll let bdnmb.ca readers know what his thoughts are on being in cabinet, his role as minister of growth, enterprise and trade, and how he will serve Brandon.