Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister shuffled his cabinet on Wednesday, increasing its size and shifting its focus.
Before the election, Pallister’s cabinet included the premier plus 13 ministers, though Crown Services Minister Colleen Mayer was not re-elected on Sept. 10.
In addition to replacing Mayer, the new cabinet includes one more member.
That allowed two MLAs to be promoted, with each taking on a newly created department. Sarah Guillemard will serve as Minister of Conservation and Climate, while Reg Helwer will be Minister of Central Services.
The premier said the realigned departments reflect his government’s most pressing priorities.
“We need to sustain our services better for the long term. There’s a fiscal sustainability piece, there’s an ecological or climate piece to this re-organization that will give us renewed focus, and there’s an economic development piece,” said Pallister.
The changes devote a specific department to conservation and climate, which replaces a broader sustainable development department.
An environmental advocate welcomed the new conservation focus and urged the province to follow it up with green action.
“It’s a signal that the government is taking the biodiversity and climate crises more seriously,” said Eric Reder, a Wilderness and water campaigner with the Wilderness Committee.
Guillemard said she’s open to discussing the idea of a carbon tax but isn’t convinced the levy is a key requirement to fighting climate change.
“There’s an opportunity there, that people have to understand what the objectives are for that. Do I think that that’s the key element in solving issues? No,” she said.
The premier said the new central services department will “modernize” procurement, information technology and shared services, with a focus on saving money. The premier said that work might include selling off some government assets.
Pallister has now added two ministers since he first reduced the size of the provincial cabinet to save money in 2016. But the premier said his new team is still about 30% smaller than the most recent Manitoba NDP cabinet.
Despite recent public funding feuds with the City of Winnipeg, Pallister said the decision to replace previous municipal relations minister Jeff Wharton with Rochelle Squires doesn’t reflect frustration over that file.
Pallister said he believes overall relations between the two governments are actually “very good.”
Squires appeared to acknowledge, however, that her new role will include some tough discussions.
“We have had a lot of really heavy issues to work with in regards to our relations with the City of Winnipeg and I’m looking forward to those challenges,” she said.
Coun. Scott Gillingham, Winnipeg’s finance chair, said municipal relations with the province have improved in recent months. He said having a new minister on the file should help continue that progress.
“When there is a change, it’s an opportunity for a new start,” said Gillingham.
Manitoba’s ministers for health, education, finance and all other portfolios will remain in their current roles.
Some highlights from Manitoba’s latest cabinet shuffle
Two MLAs join the cabinet
Existing ministers move into new roles
Other cabinet shuffle changes
What stays the same
How the opposition NDP responded