Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Cabinet Specifications

Nation, with the upcoming cabinet announcement, I thought I'd take a brief look at the options that Ed has in assembling this new cabinet.

Much has been made in the past few years about the demographics of cabinet, on both the provincial and federal levels. "What regions are represented? How many women are included? How many visible minorities?"

I'm not at all thrilled about this public-and-mainstream-media trend towards evaluating cabinet qualifications with a map and a headshot, but let's put that aside for now.

Premier Stelmach mused mid-election about reducing the size of cabinet to 18, from 21 (18 ministers and 3 associate ministers). In the same discussion, he suggested that there were 4 spots in that Cabinet set aside for Calgary. Considering the size of his caucus (that just sounds wrong - no more talking about Ed's huge caucus), Ed may need to consider upping the cabinet size to somewhere between 20 and 22. Any higher, and he'll run the risk of being seen as a "big government" type - not that he has a lot to worry about right now, but this will be the first "Stelmach's Team" cabinet, and he'll want to put his stamp solidly on it.

49.9% of Alberta's population is female. 14 female MLA's were elected for the PC's. If Ed appoints people based on gender instead of qualification, only 3 or 4 of those female MLA's will be excluded from cabinet. Hopefully, he won't succumb to that pressure, and will instead appoint based on qualification. The only cabinet post that is absolutely tied to gender is Children's Services, which is (obviously) a job that ONLY a woman can do - no man could possibly have any idea how to care for a child. Right? Single dads?

18.9% of Alberta's population comes from a visible ethnic minority group. 81.1% are "white folks". 10 PC MLA's come from visible minority groups, and 62 are "white folks". Again, if we're being completely politically correct, all 10 of the aforementioned MLA's get cabinet posts regardless of qualification - affirmative action at its worst. If Ed lets the statistics do the hiring for him, there's room for 3 or 4 ethnic faces in a 20-member cabinet.
Once again, I feel this is the worst possible way to choose a cabinet, and completely inappropriate in 2008. In my mind, and I believe in the Premier's mind as well, the PC Caucus is not made up of 62 white people and 10 non-whites... it's made up of 72 people. Choose the best of them for the jobs, regardless of race. After all, in the words of those much wiser than I: "There is only one race - the HUMAN race".

The Greater Calgary Area has 32.8% of Alberta's population, and elected 22 PC's.
The Greater Edmonton Area has 31.5% of the population, and elected 19 PC's.
Lethbridge and Medicine Hat combine for 4.9% of the population, having elected 5 PC's.
Fort Mac and Grande Prairie combine for 3.7% of the population, electing 3 PC's.
Rural Alberta, all those areas not included above, account for 27.1% of the population, and sent 23 PC's to caucus.

In a 20-member cabinet, built purely on percentages, you have 6 ministers from Calgary, 6 from Edmonton, 1 from Lethbridge or Medicine Hat, 1 from Fort Mac or GP, 5 from Rural Alberta and the Premier.

If we end up with a cabinet like that based on qualification, I'll be extremely pleased. If we end up with a cabinet that looks NOTHING like that, but is still built on qualifications, I'll still be happy - and so should all of you. Good governance transcends the politics of place, race or gender. However, if the cabinet looks EXACTLY like outlined above, based purely on where the MLA's are from, whether they possess ovaries, and their melanin content, then we will be doing Albertans a great disservice.

Of course, you're never going to be able to strike the perfect balance.

As I pointed out in December of 2006, Ukrainians make up only 9.71% of Alberta's population - yet the Premier is 100% Ukrainian. Obviously, then, Ukrainians are drastically over-represented.

Sitting down with the newspaper after the cabinet is announced and looking at the pictures for race, gender, and location is the lowest and laziest form of critical analysis of this new cabinet. Ultimately, the best cabinet we can hope for is one where people are appointed not due to geography, race, gender, faith, age or political favours rendered... the best cabinet would be the one where the members are appointed based purely on merit and ability from among the 72 elected PC MLA's. If that means the entire cabinet is full of old, white men from North of Red Deer, I'm willing to accept that if it means I get the best government possible.

Ed's not picking the models for the "This IS Alberta" poster, folks - he's picking from a pool of 72 elected MLA's to choose the best qualified cabinet possible. Let's give him a chance to pick the best candidates, and focus less on where they're from, or the absence of "y" chromosomes.

After all... Calgary already has representatives in the government. So, for that matter, does Edmonton. And Red Deer. And Lethbridge. They're called "MLA's". The cabinet isn't supposed to represent the perfect mix of Alberta's population density, gender make-up and ethnicity. It's supposed to run the business of government. That, ladies and gentlemen, takes qualified people, regardless of where they live or whether they pee standing up or sitting down.

Sounds ridiculous to make choices based on that kind of nonsense when you put it that way, doesn't it?

Here's hoping we see a QUALIFIED cabinet announced this week. I don't want someone appointed Minister of Health because Ed needed another female or rural minister to keep the papers happy - I want someone who can run the Health ministry. And, if you're in the emergency room, I suggest you'll probably want the same.


Anonymous said...

Well said.

One point to make about visible minorities is that the PC caucus has a number of firsts in it this time. First MLA of Filipino extraction (Benito). Ditto for born in mainland China (Xiao). There are probably more, but I am too lazy to look it up.

With respect to picking cabinet however, a lot of these people are rookies. They are just learning the rules of the Legislature, and where to park, and very few would be immediately able to sit in cabinet as a front-line minister. If there were some junior positions, certainly, but hard to see anyone jump into, say, Finance, when 1 month ago they were a real estate agent, a teacher, or a small businessperson.

I think people do look for skill, and for some sense of regional representation before all other qualities.

No matter how cabinet is chosen, someone is going to complain (they always do). So the best route is to just pick the best people you can for the job, based on some combination of aptitude and experience.

I don't think I would be going out on a limb to predict a few surprises, such as one or more MLAs not returning to cabinet, and maybe one or more rookies going into cabinet. But I also think that there will be ministers keeping their respective portfolios, because (a) they have been doing a good job and stakeholders want them to stay, and (b) they have only held their positions for 14 months, so as long as they are doing well, why start from scratch?

BR said...

Not to nitpick, but GP has two MLAs. So does every other mid-sized city in Alberta except Fort McMurray.

Not that I'm bitter... ;)

Enlightened Savage said...

BR: I stand corrected. Edit has been made.

I should note, though, that in terms of the population served by the ridings themselves, Ft. Mac/Wood Buffalo IS at the bottom of the totem pole compared with the other Major Juniors...

Lethbridge (proper): 75,000 (2 seats)
Medicine Hat (proper): 57,000 (2 seats)
Grande Prairie (& surroundings): 72,000 (2 seats)
Ft. Mac (& surroundings): 51,000 (1 seat)

Also, the people of Ft. Mac may want to consider having more than 21% of voters come out to cast a ballot. Hard to claim you need more of a franchise when you're not using the one you've got.

All that said, though, it'll be shocking if Ft. Mac doesn't get a second seat in the redistribution. Population is WAY above the 2006 census numbers by now...

Anonymous said...

Interesting analysis, ES. I do think you may have overdone it a bit when stressing the necessity of being qualified, though. Obviously, that should be a paramount consideration. However, it's clear that this focus is born out of your emphatic desire to dismiss gender and race as considerations altogether.

You seem to suggest that the only basis for concerns about representativeness are born out of the belief that men can't represent women, and white people can't represent visible minorities, etc. If this is the case, I think you're oversimplifying a bit.

The argument that Cabinet should be diverse is instead born out of the recognition that when Cabinet is not diverse, (i.e. there are no or a disproportionate amount of "qualified" women, visible minorities, and other minority groups) then somewhere down the line there is a systemic barrier to those groups' full participation at all levels of Alberta's politics.

Raising the point that the Cabinet is not demographically representative can draw attention to these systemic issues, which can lead to these problems being addressed. Anyhow, while I enjoyed your post, I think you're being a bit unfair in your hasty dismissal of race and gender considerations.