Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister’s cabinet shuffle on Aug. 1 included new responsibilities for three area Members of the Legislative Assembly, including a major role for Spruce Woods MLA Cliff Cullen.
Cullen, who has served in the Legislature since 2004, was named Minister of Justice and the province’s Attorney General, replacing Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson. He previously held ministerial duties in Growth, Enterprise and Trade in 2016, then Crown Services and Government House Leader through the last year.
Although his background lies in the agriculture and insurance industries, he said his political experience should benefit him in his new role as Justice Minister and Attorney General. He now oversees a department with 4000 employees and a budget of $655 million.
Cullen told The Westman Journal he has a number of goals with his new portfolio.
“First off, we broadly want to make sure Manitobans have timely access to a quality justice system,” he said. “Secondary to that, we want to have safe communities across the province in each and every corner. Those are the over-arching goals we have. With that in mind, the previous minister Heather Stefanson had undertaken a lot of reviews and new approaches within the justice system. They were working on and released a new strategy going forward and I look forward to continuing with that strategy.”
Brandon West MLA Reg Helwer was named legislative assistant to Manitoba’s new Minister of Finance, Scott Fielding, in the shuffle. He said the portfolio fits his educational background, which includes a Master of Science degree in finance.
“Financial planning, analysis and forecasting have been part of my responsibilities throughout my career,” he said. “I currently serve on the Treasury Board as the vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. I have also been chairing a committee reviewing the government’s land, buildings and leases, as well as the process for purchasing or selling these assets and why it has taken as long as 15 years to complete a sale.”
Helwer said working within the Department of Finance was, therefore, logical for him.
Meanwhile, Riding Mountain MLA Greg Nesbitt was made legislative assistant to new Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living Cameron Friesen. He said his only experience in the field relates to how health services are provided to rural residents. Nesbitt is from Shoal Lake, Man.
“I have seen, heard and experienced, first-hand, the frustration Manitobans have experienced in navigating our complex health care system, including but not limited to long waits in ER rooms, a shortage of doctors in rural and northern communities, and long waits for MRIs (and other services),” he said.
“Our health care system needs to adapt to today’s realities, especially in rural areas, and it needs to be sustainable now and into the future.”
Eileen Clarke, MLA for Agassiz, held on to her position as Minster of Indigenous and Northern Relations.
“We inherited a mess. We were hired to clean it up. We are two years into doing the job and today celebrates changes to that clean up crew.” – Premier Brian Pallister
In all, a total of six new ministers were named in the departments of Crown Services, Families, Health, Education and Training, Justice and Finance. Helwer, Nesbitt and Portage la Prairie MLA Ian Wishart (Department of Education and Training) were the changes at the legislative assistant level.
During the cabinet announcement, Pallister said the changes were a continuation of fixing the province’s finances, services and economy after a decade of mismanagement.
“We inherited a mess. We were hired to clean it up,” the premier said during the announcement. “We are two years into doing the job and today celebrates changes to that clean up crew.”
NDP suggests shuffle means cuts
In a news release from the Opposition NDP Party Caucus, Andrew Swan, the critic for Health, Active Living, Military and Veteran Affairs, said Manitobans may face cuts to health, education and front-line services following the cabinet shuffle.
“Manitoba has been suffering from some of the biggest health care cuts in a generation, and sadly, Minister Friesen’s appointment as Health Minister signals there are more to come,” he suggested. “Rural health care is expected to receive several more blows, with the closure of emergency rooms across the province, the announcement of plans to close dozens of ambulance stations, and the move towards Lifeflight privatization.”
Swan added that former Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen was instrumental in cuts to that department and suspects he will continue that trend as the new Minister of Education and Training.
Finally, Swan was critical of Premier Pallister’s lack of representation from Brandon, the Parklands and the North in the new cabinet.
“These communities make important economic contributions to our province,” he said. “For the third time, the Premier decided that the people of Brandon East, Brandon West, Dauphin, Swan River, Riding Mountain and Thompson don’t deserve a voice at the cabinet table.”