CHOOSING A CABINET
14 January 2014
Political Management in Canada (p. 13 – 26)
How to choose a cabinet that will unite the party and ensure diversity in government with
respect to region, ethnicity, religion, occupation, gender, and ability. The qualities a minister
needs to be successful and how the system can compensate for the occasional weak minister.
How cabinets change overtime and how it can be rejuvenated.
Roy Romanow, strongest opponent, led first two ballots at the leadership convention. It was
easy for Blakeney to decide his role in government, because he showed strength, run a good
campaign, and had lots of ability. He was chosen as Deputy Premier. Also to heal wounds left
from hard-fought campaign, because both were from the two main cities in province, and had
complementary skills. Provincial cabinet needs at least one high profile mouth-piece and
one bean counter. Blakeney interested in financial matters and administration -> bean counter.
Roy was a charismatic speaker, worked in media -> mouth-piece. Blakeney roots were English-
Welsh Protestant while Roy was Ukrainian and Catholic, between two of them, covered most of
bases to a party.
Because neither Roy nor Blakeney had a rural background, third choice for cabinet should be a
high-profile farmer. John Messer was able, hard driving, a successful young farmer. He was
from northeast Saskatchewan and supported Roy in the leadership campaign.
Next choice was Walter Smishek from Regina. He had close links with the trade union
constituency and supported George Taylor, another leadership candidate. He was a labor
lawyer with strong trade union support. He had better links to the left party, than did Roy or
Next choice was Everett Wood, he was part of cabinet minister in Lloyd government. He spent
many years in rural municipal government and was respected by the people across the
province. He was an active member of the Pentecostal Assembly and represented some of the
social gospel roots of CCF and NDP.
Next choice was Gordon Snyder, a locomotive engineer, representing third largest city, Moose
Jaw. He had good sense, wry sense of humor, and respect of railway unions (a large group in
Saskatchewan who did not identify with Saskatchewan Federation of Labor and people Smishek
Next choice was Ted Bowerman, a farmer from constituency next to Prince Albert, fourth largest
city. Former public servant from a well-respected family. Father had been an MP who defeated
PM Mackenzie King in 1945 federal election.
1/3 of caucus were teachers. Next choice was Neil Byers, teacher from east-central
Saskatchewan. Next choice was Gordon McMurchy, a farmer who had no legislative experience
but been provincial president of the party. He was chairman of board of a large rural school unit.
Final choice was Eiling Kramer with enormous political skills.
Blakeney tried to have the cabinet represent the main geographic areas of the province
(this was key). Also wanted various wings of the party to be represented (important initially,
less factor as time went by). Ethnic representation was a consideration (lesser importance).
Almost without effort, cabinet represented province’s main ethnic groups. Because NDP known for opposing anti-Semitism and welcoming Jewish people in leadership roles, appointed
Norman Vickar to cabinet as a link with Jewish community and small business community.
Occupational group representation as public perception is that best cabinet consist of
lawyers, accountants, and businesspeople, with experience in making decisions government
face; not true, cabinet needs farmers, working people, people who see world from perspective
outside of business mainstream. If these decisions are to serve all the people, every cabinet
must have access to experiences and feelings of a broad spectrum of public.
Consider women and visible minorities’ representation, as there was a lack.
Ability is the first requirement for a cabinet minister. Cabinet minister should be able to
handle written material, speak clearly, answer questions in the legislature factually rather than
confrontationally, listen to public and to advisors, and exercise independent judgment as an
individual minister and as part of a collegial cabinet. Some natural caution is an asset.
Sometimes a premier will have to accept lesser skills if the member’s ability to represent an
otherwise unrepresented group is particularly strong. Some cabinet ministers, but not all, must
have superior administrative skills and superior political and media skills.
Cabinet needs 5-6 able administrators and 5-6 people with real political gifts.
Blakeney gave little consideration to the specialized knowledge of potential ministers. He
determined who should be in the cabinet before what roles they should play. He looked for
generalists rather than specialists because specialized knowledge is sometimes a liability.
The best cabinet is the one that balances individual ability with the ability to represent, in
a visible way, the various constituencies whose support you seek to maintain both for your
government and for the system of representative democracy.
To accommodate or compensate for weak ministers there are several techniques. The most
obvious one is to have a strong deputy minister. If a minister’s weakness was an inability or
unwillingness to push the department to deliver a policy agreed upon by cabinet, my staff dealt
directly with the deputy.
Blakeney’s advice for creating a cabinet is to keep the cabinet very small, and enlarge it only if
Cabinets are shuffled, and some of the shuffles indicate tha