21 September 2012

Sex and the cabinet #nlpoli

If all the speculation about a cabinet shuffle in the near future turns out to be true, it will be interesting to see if Premier Kathy Dunderdale breaks the fundamentally sexist nature of her current cabinet.

Kathy Dunderdale is justifiably proud of being the first woman premier in Newfoundland and Labrador’s history.  The fact that she is the first woman to hold the job is what makes her choice of cabinet ministers stand out a bit. Frankly, it’s a wee bit odd that no one has mentioned a curious pattern that appeared.
In Kathy Dunderdale’s cabinet, men run all the big economic portfolios while women run the big social policy portfolios.

Finance and natural resources are the two departments responsible in one way or another for the backbone of the province’s economy.

The ministers – Tom Marshall and Jerome Kennedy  - are male.

Meanwhile, health and community services and advanced education represent the two most important departments of the provincial government when it comes to spending.  They are responsible for health care,  post-secondary education, and income support.  According to the 2012 Estimates, they account for about half of all government spending in the current year.

The ministers – Susan Sullivan and Joan Burke – are women.

The third largest department in terms of spending  - education - has Clyde Jackman, former teacher,  for a minister.  The other woman in cabinet – Charlene Johnson – runs child, youth and family services.

Now some of you may well have noticed that the 2012 Estimates lists Burke’s department in the resource sector.  Good catch.  That’s something that only happened this year with the creation of the new department.  Before now, all the bits that Dunderdale and company brought together into Burke’s new charge were all listed in the social sector portion of the budget.  It’s really still a social policy department even if someone wanted try and shuffle it into another category because it involves human resources.

Some others of you might be thinking this is just a coincidence that resulted from the fact there are fewer women available to be in cabinet than there are men.  Plausible though that explanation might be, it doesn’t hold up to closer scrutiny.

The past couple of premiers have had more women available to make up a cabinet than most of their predecessors.  And the couple before that had more women available in their caucus than the crowd before them.

The premiers before now managed to do some novel things.  Roger Grimes selected a woman – Joan Marie Aylward – as the first woman finance minister in Newfoundland and Labrador.  Danny Williams appointed Kathy Dunderdale as the first natural resources minister in provincial history.  He also appointed Diane Whalen to the traditionally male department that looks after provincial public works.

Now Kathy was natural resources minister but as pretty well everyone understands it, Danny actually looked after all the big projects. But still, she had the job. 

The male-female split in cabinet is one thing.  What seems to be more important in determining the department make-ups is that Sullivan and Burke have the two largest departments in government and both are Dunderdale’s closest confidants. 

The correlation between cabinet post and confidant is most obvious with Sullivan, Dunderdale’s sometime vacation partner.  Closest cabinet pal =  biggest department.

Over in the economic departments, it seems that Tom Marshall stayed put in order to continue the cabinet’s budget policy on track. Not that any one of them couldn’t continue “spend it while you got it”, but Marshall is also closely tied to Danny Williams.  Marshall is continuity with the core Tory policy since 2003 and with Williams,  whose pet policy on Muskrat Falls still isn’t finished.  Marshall gives continuity in the same way as do some other old Williams faces are still around or came back.

Jerome Kennedy was a new face in Natural Resources but he was also a source of continuity with Williams in a department that was crucial to the Muskrat Falls plan.  In that respect, he is much like Skinner.  Kennedy has also been an able defender of the project. he’s also been exceptionally aggressive.  According to some accounts, Kennedy has been growing frustrated though, perhaps because of the chronic problems the Muskrat Falls project is causing for the Tories politically.

When the cabinet shuffle does come, one of the things to watch for is how these four move or don’t move.  Where these four people go – Marshall, Kennedy, Burke, and Sullivan - will be a big clue as to what Dunderdale has planned.