FREDERICTON - New Brunswick Premier David Alward announced a major overhaul of his cabinet Wednesday, pulling four members from the backbenches and straying from a promise to reduce the number of ministers in his government.
The Progressive Conservative government will soon have 17 cabinet ministers, not including Alward. During the 2010 election, he promised to reduce the size of cabinet to 15 ministers.
Alward said while the shuffle will result in a higher number of ministers since his first cabinet, he stressed that it's down from the 20 cabinet ministers who served under former Liberal premier Shawn Graham.
"Going forward it will still be a significantly smaller cabinet than the previous Liberal government," Alward said.
"Also, we've significantly reduced the number of positions within the senior leadership of the public service."
Critics quickly pounced on Alward's remarks.
"I find it inexplicable that you can have a government that has repeatedly been banging the drum of what we want versus what we need, and apparently what we need is more cabinet ministers," said NDP Leader Dominic Cardy.
"It doesn't make any sense to me and completely contradicts the government's previous commitment to keep the cabinet at a smaller size."
Bill Fraser, the Liberal Opposition house leader, said the increase in cabinet size is the latest in a growing list of broken commitments.
"The only cabinet shuffle that should have been made is the premier," Fraser said. "He's the problem here."
Alward's new cabinet, to be sworn in Oct. 9, will see the appointment of four backbenchers to the portfolios of Health, Post-Secondary Education, Human Resources and the newly created Department of Healthy and Inclusive Communities.
Among the new ministers will be Hugh John (Ted) Flemming, who was just elected three months ago in the Saint John area riding of Rothesay. He becomes health minister.
"Ted is a great communicator and health care is something important to every New Brunswicker," Alward said. "I believe he will do the necessary work to ensure we're able to make the changes in the health care system that we need to."
Craig Leonard will leave the Government Services Department to be the energy and mines minister. He has been the acting energy minister since Margaret-Ann Blaney resigned in May to become the new president of Efficiency NB, a Crown corporation mandated to promote efficient energy measures.
Sue Stultz will take over for Leonard at Government Services. She will vacate her post as social development minister.
Madeleine Dube, the health minister, will take over for Stultz.
The only minister who will be removed from cabinet is Martine Coulombe — the sister of Bernard Valcourt, the federal associate defence minister. She is the minister of post-secondary education.
Alward also announced a number of changes among deputy ministers.
The biggest change is the hiring of Tom Mann as the new deputy minister in the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour.
Mann has held positions with a number of unions in the province, and was the executive director of the New Brunswick Union of Public and Private Employees until earlier this year.
There are 41 Progressive Conservatives, 13 Liberals and one Independent in the legislature.