Removal of minister who was critical of premier called ‘administrative error’ Squires served on powerful committee for five days
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/07/2021 (549 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Family Services Minister Rochelle Squires was a member of the most powerful cabinet committee in the Pallister government — for five days — until she questioned the premier’s comments on colonialism and residential schools.
Squires was appointed to the priorities and planning committee with an order-in-council on July 15. The order was rescinded on July 20.
On Wednesday, the Tory government denied she had been removed and said it was instead an “administrative error.”
But, the same “error” also occurred after another powerful woman dared to defy Premier Brian Pallister. Eileen Clarke, who resigned as Indigenous relations and northern affairs minister in response to the premier’s remarks concerning Indigenous people and his refusal to listen to his cabinet ministers, was listed as a new member of Treasury Board on a government website, dated July 15. An order-in-council on July 20 rescinded Clarke’s appointment.
The acting press secretary for Premier Brian Pallister couldn’t say if it’s a coincidence that the errors involved Clarke and Squires.
Orders-in-council are legal instruments required to take a range of executive actions, including appointments to cabinet and cabinet committees, said Paul Thomas political studies professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba.
“There is a well-established process to be followed and there are officials within the executive council who are responsible for making the machinery run smoothly,” Thomas said, noting that the office has a $4-million budget.
Copies of the documents show that the orders had been signed by Lt.-Gov Janice Filmon and Pallister.
Pallister’s office said last week the online announcement of Clarke’s appointment to Treasury Board was a mistake and that she had not been offered the position.
Clarke said in a prepared statement from her constituency office that she had not been made aware of any appointment to Treasury Board, but received an email from the board secretary congratulating her on the recent appointment.
The premier’s press secretary said it was an administrative error, with an outdated draft group of orders-in-council regarding cabinet committee memberships inadvertently posted.
The same “clerical error” happened with Squires, and the notice of her appointment to the planning and priorities committee, another government spokeswoman said Wednesday.
“…It appears staff was using an old template from 2019 (when Squires was indeed on this committee) as their basis to draft a new version to reflect the latest membership,” Andrea Slobodian said in an email.
“While they swapped out some outgoing and incoming members, they did not remove Minister Squires from the list, though she had actually been removed from that committee in 2020. It was an administrative oversight.”
A spokesperson for Squires said: “The minister confirms this was a clerical oversight in which an outdated committee membership list was posted, even though she had not been on the committee since the previous year. The minister did not resign from this cabinet appointment.”
Slobodian did not respond to a question about whether the premier and the clerk of the executive council read orders before signing them. When asked if the administrative errors involved only Clarke and Squires or whether other MLAs were inadvertently appointed to committees, she initially wouldn’t say.
“You can read the OICs and compare the lists of names on that web page to see if there were any other errors rescinded,” she said in an email.
Late Wednesday night, Slobodian pointed out that another order, regarding the economic growth committee, was rescinded on July 21. She said this “disproves the conspiracy theory that Clarke and Squires were singled out as punishment.”
Thomas said it’s impossible, from the outside, to know what went wrong in this instance because of the secrecy that surrounds decision-making at the centre of government. “The best one can do is speculate,” he said.
“It sounds like there’s some internal discord happening there,” said NDP critic Malaya Marcelino, who questioned the timing of the errors that both involve Clarke and Squires, who were critical of the premier.
“It’s certainly a little suspicious,” she said.
“Maybe the premier’s unfortunate Canada Day remarks and Clarke’s surprise resignation created a frenzy in the inner circle, especially when it was followed by a disastrous coming-out event with her replacement,” Thomas said, referring to historically inaccurate remarks about residential schools made by Alan Lagimodiere after his swearing-in as minister of Indigenous reconciliation.
“In the midst of this crisis, maybe someone forgot to rescind some pending appointments to cabinet committees that were already ‘in the pipeline’,” said Thomas. “In the rush to politically manage the exploding crisis, perhaps everyone at the centre forgot to ask ‘What is coming up on the executive agenda that needs to be modified in light of recent developments?’” the veteran political analyst speculated.
As issues shift frequently, sometimes even during the same day, the work environment within the executive council is frenetic, Thomas said. “There are tremendous pressures on staff who are often facing tight deadlines,” Thomas said.
“It appears that communications at the centre of this government is dysfunctional at times, in part because of the premier’s operating style of being ‘always on send and seldom on receive’ in the sense of not being prepared to listen meaningfully to others,” suggested Thomas.
“The premier is a tough, demanding boss to work for and is unforgiving when screwups occur. More junior staff may be reluctant to speak.”
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
Updated on Wednesday, July 28, 2021 7:50 PM CDT: Updates story
Updated on Wednesday, July 28, 2021 10:35 PM CDT: Removes extra word, the, in sentence
Updated on Thursday, July 29, 2021 7:24 AM CDT: Adds clarification from government spokeswoman; fixes typo.