So, what would you read into this latest set of provincial cabinet tea leaves? Wednesday, Premier Kathy Dunderdale flipped two ministers around, moving Tom Marshall from Finance to Natural Resources, and moving Jerome Kennedy in the opposite direction.
It’s a swap of the long titles: Kennedy becomes “Minister of Finance, President of Treasury Board, Minister Responsible for the Human Resource Secretariat, Minister Responsible for the Public Service Commission, and Minister Responsible for the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor
Corporation,” while Marshall is now, to quote the news release, “Minister of Natural Resources and Minister Responsible for the Forestry and Agrifoods Agency, in addition to his continued responsibilities as Attorney General.”
Maybe Premier Dunderdale feels she needs the pugnacious Kennedy in the Finance Department to defend the upcoming reputedly tough budget — it can’t be to plan the thing, because much of the budgetary work is already complete. It may be her plan to have a nastier frontman to deal with the upcoming public battle between the provincial government and its contract-less unions.
Kennedy had a big presence in the Muskrat Falls debate, and it may be that Dunderdale wants to bring that style to another tough and public portfolio. It’s a role he’s had before Natural Resources as well, with a couple of years in the sprawling and sometimes acrimonious Department of Health. If there is a point man for a punch-up in the current cabinet, Kennedy is most likely it.
It seems unlikely that the move is to put a kinder, gentler face on issues in Natural Resources — after all, Muskrat Falls has already been sanctioned, all of the nasty and unpalatable legislation needed to prop up its particular financial case study has been shoved through the House of Assembly, and the biggest issues for Natural Resources now are likely to be rearguard actions, like justifying the almost-guaranteed cost overruns on projects that have already been launched.
All in all, it’s a strange little shuffle, especially as it involves, in Marshall’s case, a politician who has already said he doesn’t intend to run in the next election. Natural Resources certainly isn’t the frying-pan of a department threatening cutbacks, but it’s not really a quiet pasture for a retiring warhorse, either. If that was what the change was supposed to offer, Marshall would be setting up new digs in Tourism or somewhere like that.
Let’s hope that Marshall’s new position, with its stewardship of Muskrat Falls, doesn’t see the same massive increase in spending that marked the last six years or so of the provincial government’s record.
And let’s hope Kennedy gets along better with the union file than he did in his public scraps with anyone opposed to the Muskrat Falls project.
Marshall often seems the real diplomat in the Dunderdale government.
It’s fair to say, then, that the financial gloves are coming off.