09/30/2014 04:00 EDT | Updated 11/29/2014 05:59 EST

Kingmaker, unelected minister top picks for Newfoundland and Labrador cabinet

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis named his first cabinet Tuesday by promoting his kingmaker and appointing an unelected political outsider to key justice and public safety roles.

Steve Kent, who endorsed Davis after placing third in the Progressive Conservative party's leadership race earlier this month, was made deputy premier and health minister.

Davis denied it was in exchange for Kent's support and said it recognized his flat-out work ethic and ability.

The new premier was harder pressed, however, to explain how his bid to rebrand his government as open and accountable includes an unelected attorney general and public safety minister who won't face questions in the legislature.

"We'll ensure that all the questions are answered," Davis said. "We've got good experience in our cabinet from past ministers who've been involved with the former department of justice, so we'll take care of that."

Lawyer Judy Manning, niece of Conservative Senator Fabian Manning, confirmed she won't run in one of three expected byelections. Instead, she told reporters she'll run in her home district of Placentia-St. Mary's in the next general election which, under provincial law, must be called within a year.

"I will be doing my best to serve the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and I trust that will be acceptable."

Opposition critics pounced.

"There are important issues at stake here," Liberal Opposition Leader Dwight Ball said in an interview.

"It's just not good enough to have alternate ministers answering those questions on the floor of the house of assembly."

Davis has not confirmed timing of the next election except to say he won't go to the polls this fall.

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said it's disturbing and disrespectful that months could pass with no chance to question Manning in the legislature.

Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at University of Toronto, said ministerial power may stem from the Crown but voters want accountability.

"Canadians expect in this democratic age that the people in the cabinet are elected."

That generally means unelected ministers seek a seat at the soonest opportunity, Wiseman said in an interview.

"The longer (Manning) is a minister without having a mandate from the people in a specific constituency, the more political pressure will be brought to bear on her and the government as not being representative of the people's wishes.

"And it gives the opposition parties something to slam the government with — not just today, but every day this person appears in the media."

Davis, a former police officer, was sworn in as premier Friday. His cabinet stands at 16 members including himself, about the same size as it was before.

The public safety department will spearhead the premier's new advisory council on crime and absorbs the former justice department.

Davis replaced Tom Marshall, who took over after Kathy Dunderdale quit in January amid questions about her leadership.

The province's majority Progressive Conservative government has been in power since 2003 but has lost a series of byelections to the Opposition Liberals.

It was a second day of tough questions for Davis, who accepted the resignation Monday of his transportation minister.

Nick McGrath quit cabinet after an auditor general's report on his handling of a politically sensitive road paving contract in Labrador.

Auditor general Terry Paddon's report says McGrath offered to cancel the highway contract on March 13, the day before nominations closed for a first attempt at the Progressive Conservative leadership race.

The Tories asked Paddon to review the contract last May with Humber Valley Paving after it became a political hot potato. The company was once led by Frank Coleman, who was in line to become Tory leader and premier before he suddenly withdrew from politics in June citing an undisclosed family matter. His son Gene took over the company and dealt directly with McGrath on the nixed contract.

McGrath said Monday he hadn't reviewed the auditor general's full report, but defended his decision to cancel the deal without penalty and without briefing the premier's office.

"I was thinking about the taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador," he told reporters. "It had nothing to do with Mr. Coleman. The timing, I agree, wasn't very good. But that's something I have to live with."

Davis on Tuesday brushed off Liberal calls for a judicial inquiry. He said the audit report, while inconclusive due to a lack of documentation, makes recommendations his government will follow.

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