Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister shuffled his cabinet Tuesday, splitting the job of health minister into two positions in the middle of a pandemic and making an historic appointment.
During a ceremony at the Manitoba Legislature streamed by the province, Pallister handed new portfolios to nine members, including three who are joining the cabinet for the first time.
The largest shake-up involved the health portfolio. Cameron Friesen (Morden-Winkler), who had previously served as Manitoba's Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living, was reassigned as the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Manitoba.
"I don't think there's a person in this province who would have wanted the job he undertook to do as a leader in our health department over the last number of months. He's worked diligently and very, very hard," said Pallister.
However, the leader of the opposition called it a demotion.
"The bottom line is Mr. Pallister fired his health minister and he did so in the middle of the pandemic. That is not good for Manitoba," said NDP Leader Wab Kinew. "It is a reflection of Mr. Pallister's and Mr. Friesen's failings."
Heather Stefanson (Tuxedo), who had previously served as the Minister of Families, will now serve as Minister of Health and Seniors Care, helping to lead Manitoba’s pandemic response.
MANITOBA’S FIRST BLACK CABINET MINISTER
It is a job Stefanson will not be doing alone. The role of health minister has been divided into two positions – with Pallister bringing Audrey Gordon (Southdale) into his inner circle as the Minister of Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery.
Gordon was first elected in 2019, and was among the first Black MLAs with a seat in the legislature. She is now the first Black MLA to become a cabinet minister in Manitoba.
"I am incredibly honoured and humbled to represent the Black community," said Gordon.
Before being elected, she worked as Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's director of strategic initiatives, and worked with the province in departments including health, labour and immigration, and the Multiculturalism Secretariat.
Gordon's new portfolio – Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery – is a brand new portfolio.
"I think that the challenges of addiction are real," said Pallister.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the creation of the position is a positive step, but added more needs to be done to address mental health issues.
"We know for a fact there are colossal problems right now with mental health and with addictions," said Lamont. "For a lot of these ministers the learning curve is going to be almost vertical."
OTHER CABINET CHANGES
Kelvin Goertzen (Steinbach) was handed a new portfolio, being sworn in as the Minister of Legislative and Public Affairs and Deputy Premier of Manitoba.
Goertzen previously served as Minister of Education, a role that was handed to Cliff Cullen (Spruce Woods) on Tuesday. Goertzen stays on as Government House Leader.
"We were fully focused on the outcome of education for students and improving that and then with the pandemic so much of our time became about how do we just keep the system functioning," said Goertzen.
Other changes were also announced Tuesday.
Wayne Ewasko (Lac du Bonnet) was handed a brand new portfolio, sworn in as Minister of Advanced Education, Skills, and Immigration. The province said he will be tasked with "advanced education opportunities" and supporting new economic and social opportunities for graduates and immigrants.
Ewasko was first elected in 2011, then again in 2016 and 2019. He has served as chair of the government caucus. He worked for 17 years as a teacher and guidance councillor.
Derek Johnson (Interlake–Gimli) is now Minister of Municipal Relations. He was first elected as MLA for the area in 2016. Before that, he served as a councillor in the RM of St. Laurent and worked as a financial advisor.
Ralph Eichler (Lakeside), formerly the Minister of Economic Development and Training, was sworn in as the Minister of Economic Development and Jobs.
Rochelle Squires (Riel), Formerly the Minister of Municipal Relations, was sworn in as Minister of Families. She also continues in her role as the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs.
The following ministers did not see any change in their portfolios:
• Ron Schuler (Springfield-Ritchot) – minister of infrastructure;
• Blaine Pedersen (Midland) – minister of agriculture and resource development;
• Eileen Clarke (Agassiz) – minister of Indigenous and northern relations;
• Cathy Cox (Kildonan-River East) – minister of sports, culture and heritage;
• Scott Fielding (Kirkfield Park)– minister of finance;
• Jeff Wharton (Red River North) – minister of Crown services;
• Reg Helwer (Brandon West) – minister of central services; and
• Sarah Guillemard (Fort Richmond) – minister of conservation and climate.
OPPOSITION CRITICIZES SHUFFLE
Kinew said the shuffle does little to address problems that persist in the pandemic.
"We are still struggling, among the most hard hit provinces with the second wave of this pandemic and our vaccine roll out lags behind all the other provinces," said Kinew.
Lamont said even though there are new faces in these positions "the same script" remains.