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Conservation speculation

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The sexy speculation in political nerd circles seems to swirl around who might be finance minister and, like Dan, I’d put money on Theresa Oswald or Big Mac. Jennifer Howard used to be a health policy wonk, so she’s an obvious choice for health if Oswald moves.

For me, though, the more interesting spec is about Conservation – a department that’s been troubled for years. One source familiar with its inner workings said senior and mid-level staff are obstructionist and old-school, and progress on files is glacial. The department’s climate change initiative is a failure and has completely fallen off the radar. The east side governance process seems to have ground to a halt. I’m still not sure what’s a Water Stewardship thing, what’s an Energy and Mines thing and what’s a Conservation thing. And there is no department slower with FOI requests, which is a little inside baseball but speaks volumes. That’s not to say there aren’t excellent people working in Conservation, but, on the climate change file alone, it’s rudderless.

For much of the last few years, the department has had less-than-energetic ministers. The late Oscar Lathlin cared about many things, but I’m not sure septic field inspections was one of them. And, even admirers of Bill Blaikie say he was disengaged. Stan Struthers mucked in, worked hard and is among the best-liked MLAs at the legislature, but I don’t think he knocked heads much within the department. Kind of not his style.

Selinger needs to promote two people from the backbenches and it’s fairly slim pickings for a party with such a big majority. There’s a bunch of promising newbies who need time to set up their voicemail, some rogues like Elmwood’s Jim Maloway, and that’s basically it, except for Rossmere’s Erna Braun and Kirkfield Park’s Sharon Blady, assuming the recount comes out in her favour.

That brings us to Drew Caldwell. For years, he’s been seen as the disastrous former education minister, one of the few people former Premier Gary Doer ever demoted, a hippie lightweight. But he’s toiled in the backbenches and some say he’s matured a lot. He was willing to take on politically risky issues in education, and he’s apparently not scared to speak his mind.

Folks in Brandon are acutely aware they’re left out of cabinet – not that it made a difference last week. Caldwell still won by 1,000 votes. So it’s not like the NDP need to woo the Wheat City. But maybe some guys deserve a second chance, and maybe Conservation could benefit from a minister with something to prove.

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About Mary Agnes Welch

Mary Agnes Welch joined the Free Press in 2002, first as a general assignment reporter and then covering city hall and the Manitoba legislature before moving to her current post as public policy reporter.

Before Winnipeg, she worked at the Windsor Star and the Odessa American, a small daily newspaper in West Texas. There, in addition to covering more than 20 counties, she took high school football scores from coaches all over West Texas by phone every Friday night.

Mary Agnes is a graduate of Columbia University’s journalism school, has won several Western Ontario Newspaper Awards and has been part of two teams of reporters nominated for a Michener Award. In 2011, she was nominated for a National Newspaper Award in the beat category. She is also the former national president of the Canadian Association of Journalists.

She once misspelled "Shih Tzu" in the paper and received 37 emails from angry dog-owners.

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