A political rookie and rising NDP star was named to cabinet Friday in a portfolio that appeared to play to his strengths.
Point Douglas MLA Kevin Chief, who has spent his career working with youths, was one of two new ministers who will now sit in Premier Greg Selinger's inner circle. He takes the helm of the new Department of Children and Youth Opportunities.
Another rookie MLA, but an old hand at municipal politics from western Manitoba, also got promoted. Ron Kostyshyn (Swan River), a cattle rancher from Ethelbert, takes over as agriculture minister.
"I'm very excited and very humbled for this opportunity," Chief told reporters after a swearing-in at the legislative building Friday. As he spoke, he held his 15-month-old son, Hayden, who silently observed the crush of reporters and couldn't resist grabbing their microphones.
Selinger said the new department will combine several functions of existing portfolios, including the government's various healthy-child initiatives.
Chief will also head the new After School Matters program, announced by the NDP during the election campaign. It's based on a Chicago program that provides job training and mentorship opportunities to high school students during school hours.
"We want opportunities for youth; we want opportunities for children," the premier said.
"We think that by organizing all the resources for young people and children in one department on the prevention side, that we can make those investments and put together those programs and activities that can prevent crime and allow young people to have opportunities to thrive in our communities."
Before running for elected office, Chief co-ordinated the University of Winnipeg's Innovative Learning Centre, developing programs for young people to increase their desire to learn. Just over a year ago, he lost a federal byelection to Liberal Kevin Lamoureux in Winnipeg North.
But he secured the NDP nomination in the safe provincial constituency of Point Douglas after George Hickes, the former Speaker of the legislature, retired.
Kostyshyn takes over the agriculture portfolio from Stan Struthers, who will retain his job as finance minister. "It's been a dream come true and I'm enjoying every minute of it," Kostyshyn said.
Selinger noted that Kostyshyn, although a rookie MLA, has 20 years of experience as a councillor and reeve and has served on the board of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities.
Friday's new appointments bring the size of the Selinger cabinet to 19 -- the same as before the Oct. 4 election.
Two former cabinet ministers, Rosann Wowchuk and Bill Blaikie, did not seek re-election. Their duties have been picked up by other ministers.
Progressive Conservative spokesman Kelvin Goertzen (Steinbach) said athough Selinger introduced some new faces to cabinet, it doesn't appear the NDP government's philosophy is about to change.
"Ultimately, it's a government that is still spending way beyond its means," Goertzen said, adding Selinger could have sent a message about cutting costs by reducing the size of cabinet -- even by one member.