Cabinet Shuffle has Questionable Benefits
Charlottetown July 15, 2022: The cabinet shuffle is a longstanding government tradition at least as old as the John A MacDonald government, but why does it happen, and who benefits from it? Speculation, rumors, and uncertainty abound in the preamble and wake of a premier or prime minister’s motivation for such a move.
Let’s look at a timeline that one might expect for a government to carry out its mandate. The usual term length for a majority government, particularly one in a jurisdiction with a “fixed election date”, is four years (although the Constitution actually allows for a maximum term length of five years).
So a government is elected with the endorsement of several initiatives it has committed to carry out, and shortly after taking office the premier appoints a cabinet and delivers a mandate letter to each of his/her cabinet ministers to enact, which includes programs for which they were elected.
The newly elected cabinet minister must first become acquainted with his/her role and scope in a particular department, and develop a working relationship with a deputy minister and staff. This may take up to six months before beginning the background work to enact a new program which may require public consultation, research, and a layout plan possibly requiring legislation, and regulations. This process may take at least one year before initiation of the new program. At least another six months may be required for program adjustments during the implementation phase. Bottom line, a major new policy direction may take a cabinet minister at least two years from the day he/she was elected.
The King government’s promise of an elected school board took three years to bring into effect.
So given the time it takes for a cabinet minister to become acquainted with his/her role, understand the regular operations of a government department, and fulfill the promises for which their government was elected, why would a premier want to do a cabinet shuffle? One could understand if it was for a minister’s abrupt departure from office, or an egregious failure of some sort. Failing that, questions are bound to emerge regarding the premier’s motives.
Government accountability is a major challenge for the opposition, media and the general public surrounding a cabinet shuffle. One cannot query the former minister, since he/she has moved on, and one can’t hold the newly shuffled minister accountable since he/she can’t be held responsible for made or action taken by the previous holder of the portfolio. However, a cabinet shuffle does create a lot of chatter in political pundit and media circles, focusing mainly on ministers’ promotion or demotion, drawing attention away from important issues of the day.
So one may ask that by disrupting several government departments with change in ministerial leadership, will a cabinet shuffle correct the family doctor access crisis, provide relief for the high cost of living, and restore the seed potato industry devastated by potato wart, or will it simply provide a distraction and an accountability escape for government ministries?
Michelle Neill, Leader
Island New Democrats
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