PETER CONRADI/Bullet News
What about Jim?
Now there’s a thinker for incoming premier Kathleen Wynne. What about Jim, indeed?
As she works to put together her first cabinet, coping with the usual angst and expectations among the caucus, she knows it’s time to start promoting some of the new talent around her. She needs to form a cabinet that will reflect her values, her vision and, quite simply, the desire to show the electorate a different face. There are only so many positions to go around, and there is rumbling that this could mean the end of the road for longtime St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley.
It won’t be an easy decision for Wynne. But it may be one whose time has come. Bradley is the longest serving member in the Legislature. He’s held almost every position you can name. But does he fit? Is he part of Wynne’s desire to remake the Liberals at Queen’s Park? Is it time for him to fade away – or allow the new boss to help him with an exit strategy – both long and dignified as befits someone of his tenure and stature?
Even veteran Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor, who has never cracked the cabinet roster himself, said on the weekend that Wynne has to offer up voters something new – that there must be new faces on the front benches. A little self-promotion? Probably not. He’s said in the past he’d like to be part of the inner circle, but this time has already said he’s not looking for a promotion.
Just as well. Craitor is likely seen as too willing to go his own way on issues – something that makes him popular with constituents but viewed with caution by the premier’s office. It will be easy for Wynne to leave him out since he’s never previously made the cut, and keep him happy with a parliamentary secretary job – much like he has now with Tourism Minister Michael Chan.
Bradley’s position is of more immediate concern to Wynne, and is much more complex. So much goes into these cabinet choices. Wynne has a minority government so she must be extra careful in her selection. Really bad moves can work to tip the balance of volatile voters.
Bradley was once viewed as untouchable. Now the Progressive Conservatives and NDP see him as vulnerable. There was of course a time where that was heresy. But criticism of Bradley as less visible and less effective representative is gaining traction at home. He has a lot of friends and supporters. He’s a tireless campaigner. He’s experienced. But critics are more and more willing to step out from behind the curtains to point out shortcomings, real or perceived. Does that make him less valuable to the government?
Dumping him from cabinet carries risks. It would serve to reinforce the PC strategy of labelling him as less relevant to his own party. Wynne cannot afford that. She is well aware that in the next election there are, really, few swing seats. Maybe six or eight in the whole province, and two of them are right here in Niagara – St. Catharines and Niagara Falls. The Tories, and probably the NDP, are going to put a ton of resources into Niagara as opponents sense blood in the water.
As Wynne struggles to balance her numbers and offend as few people is possible in the gentlest way she can, a possible solution for Bradley is to reprise him in the role of house leader, possibly placing in him cabinet without portfolio. Or she could give him one of those special jobs. Greg Sorbara was eased into retirement by heading the provincial task force on tourism – the report that gave us another layer of publicly funded bureaucracy. Bradley could be handed a similar soft landing to, say, examine gambling.
As Queen’s Park tries to figure out what to do with slots facilities and a new casino in Toronto, it could determine a deeper look (and a little more foot-dragging) is required before the next election. Who better to take this on than Bradley, an established gambling critic, and a former tourism minister who has two casinos (and a closed slots facility) in his neighbouring riding.
Wynne hasn’t said much about the cabinet yet. She met with her MPPs for the first time on Tuesday for around two hours. Craitor said her focus seems to be finding a way to make her minority government work. One f her first steps has to be getting the right people around her. The process may not start in Niagara, but we’ll certainly be well included in the conversation.