POLITICS

Manitoba press secretary says 'reset' of cabinet coming before throne speech

10/16/2013 01:35 EDT | Updated 12/16/2013 05:12 EST
WINNIPEG - Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger is set to make some big changes to his cabinet.

There will be a "reset" of the ministerial lineup in the coming days —well before the NDP government's Nov. 12 throne speech, Selinger's press secretary, Matt Williamson, said Wednesday.

"You can expect a reset in the very near future that presents a strong team with a focus on creating good jobs and new opportunities for Manitobans, while continuing to build our critical infrastructure," Williamson wrote in an email.

The change comes as the NDP has been dropping in opinion polls and halfway through the party's fourth consecutive mandate.

The government has faced strong criticism over its decision in April to raise the provincial sales tax to eight per cent from seven per cent. The government also dodged a referendum on the increase that was required under the law by amending the legislation to suspend the requirement.

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard called the looming shuffle a sign that things are not well for the NDP.

"To me, this is a sign that the NDP know that they're in trouble, that their popularity is plummeting, and they're trying desperately to do something that will shore their image up," said Gerrard.

The New Democrats have defended the sales tax increase by saying it is needed to maintain public services and build infrastructure. They say the Opposition Progressive Conservatives, who have fought the tax hike, would implement deep cuts instead.

The man who has taken the brunt of the tax criticism, Finance Minister Stan Struthers, may be headed to another portfolio, suggested Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Manitoba.

"I think you probably would have to say that there could be some replacement for Struthers," Thomas said.

Struthers also drew controversy last year, when he told a legislature committee he had not been given any free tickets to National Hockey League games. It was later revealed he had received a free ticket, and he apologized.

The tax hike is expected to be a key issue in the next election, which is set for October 2015. A federal election is also set for that time, however, and the Manitoba government has passed a law that will push the provincial vote back to April 2016 unless the federal date changes.

The cabinet shuffle may also offer a chance for some longtime ministers, who may not run for re-election, to step aside for younger up-and-comers.

Steve Ashton, Dave Chomiak, Gord Mackintosh and Eric Robinson have been in cabinet since the NDP took office in 1999. Others, including Nancy Allan and Peter Bjornson, have a decade in cabinet under their belts.

Ashton, who is currently the minister for infrastructure and transportation, said Wednesday he has no plans to retire.

"You make that decision every election, but I'm currently looking at running.

"There are other things I could be doing ... but I haven't found anything yet that I'd prefer to do than this, quite frankly."

Thomas said there are some NDP backbenchers that might be moved up to cabinet. He pointed to Sharon Blady, first elected in 2007, who managed to hang on to her seat in what was once a Tory stronghold in west Winnipeg.

Theresa Oswald may be due for a shift to finance, Thomas said, after serving in the demanding health portfolio for seven years.

"I think she's handled herself and her portfolio quite well, so maybe she gets a promotion on that basis."

Selinger's last cabinet shuffle was in January 2012, when he promoted two rookie legislature members. Kevin Chief was named minister of the newly created children and youth opportunities portfolio. Ron Kostyshyn was given agriculture.