It came four hours late, but I did have a phone interview with Cliff Cullen, once a comparatively low-key Progressive Conservative Opposition MLA, now minister of growth, enterprise and trade (and labour) in the new Brian Pallister government.
The Spruce Woods rep, who lives in Glenboro, is also now the de facto voice at the cabinet table for Brandon, as our two Tory MLAs were passed over for a seat in the pared-down 12-member inner circle.
The Spruce Woods constituency encircles the Wheat City, so we’re kinda like the hole in the doughnut. However, Cullen has been spotted frequently in Brandon, is completely up to speed on the issues facing us that fall under the province’s purview and says he will work closely with Brandon East MLA-elect Len Isleifson and Brandon West MLA-elect Reg Helwer.
“We have two really good representatives in Brandon,” Cullen said Wednesday, the day after he was sworn in. “I know the premier will have additional roles for those two fellas once they are sworn in (May 11). They will be an important part of our team.
“And that’s really the way that we look at it. We’re all part of the same team trying to accomplish some good things for Manitoba.
However, neither Isleifson or Helwer were on the list of six legislative assistants appointed last week to assist ministers. Cullen’s LA is Kelly Bindle, MLA-elect for Thompson.
The position of legislative assistant, says a government release, is filled by MLAs in caucus in order to support cabinet ministers and also provide the assigned MLAs with experience associated to cabinet.
The list also included many of the demographic and geographic voids in the cabinet.
As far as lists go, Cullen wasn’t any pundit’s pick that I saw as being a potential cabinet minister. Helwer was considered the natural choice. I asked Cullen how he felt when he got the call from the premier on Monday.
“I was somewhat surprised, but I’ve been around here a long time and had a lot of different roles and built a lot of relationships over time,” he said.
As for pressing issues in Spruce Woods, they are primarily crumbling roads and health care — or “the lack thereof” — for the latter.
In Brandon, infrastructure issues also dominate. Including the Daly Overpass rebuild.
Cullen gets an extra $50,930 on top of the regular MLA’s pay of $93,025. He also gets extra staff. And a really nice office in the Manitoba Legislature.
Cullen also has a new deputy minister, Jamie Wilson, the former, Treaty Relations Commissioner of Manitoba. He was one of four deputy ministers that Pallister moved in quickly to replace existing NDP hires.
Brandonites will also have direct access to government via the Westman Regional Cabinet Office.
What’s that you ask? It’s located in the provincial building on Ninth Street and has traditionally been a low-key operation. But there’s no reason it couldn’t be made more prominent and accessible to constituents.
The office, which traditionally employs two people, was first opened in 1989 by former premier Gary Filmon.
The first director of that office was veteran newscaster Ron Arnst, who has served as a press secretary to cabinet since he left CKLQ 880 earlier that year.
At the time, Arnst was charged with acting as a local liaison for groups and individuals dealing with government and was to be available to assist organizers of community projects in gaining access to appropriate government services.
I’m not too sure how that office was used under the NDP regime. I know the staff did organize media appearances of ministers and the premier, but the new Tory government is free to structure it as it pleases.
And that could go a long way to soothe the feeling of Tory voters who feel that Brandon has been left on the outside looking in again of the cabinet room.
(The photos here include one I took of Pallister greeting Cullen at a pre-election rally at Len Isleifson’s campaign office.The other is a screen grab from CBC of Cullen being sworn in by Manitoba Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon.)