Jim Prentice Names his Cabinet: New Brooms Sweep Clean or Do They?

By this time tomorrow it will all be over, Jim Prentice, the premier-designate, will have unveiled his new cabinet.

Mr Prentice, the proverbial “new broom”, promised to sweep clean a cabinet larded with MLAs, who have enjoyed the unique privilege that comes with 43 years of uncontested power, and replace it with a smaller leaner cabinet that reflects merit and generational change. The result will be a “new government” that is accountable, ethical and focused on Albertans priorities.*

If only this were true.  

The “New Broom”

Mr Prentice’s heart may be in the right place; but unlike a private sector CEO, Mr Prentice does not have the latitude he needs to make sweeping changes. Here’s why.

McKinsey, a leading management consulting firm and oracle to senior corporate executives everywhere, studied the success of incoming CEOs over a 20 year period and provides the following advice for “new brooms”. (While directed at the private sector, McKinsey’s principles highlight the challenges facing “new brooms” in the public sector as well):

Take advantage of the “honeymoon”: New CEOs must move fast in the “honeymoon” period to reallocate talent and resources. Then they must throttle back to allow the market to understand their actions. Mr Prentice is moving fast to set up his new cabinet (which is good) but he has no time to throttle back or make course corrections if he or his cabinet ministers stumble because the 2016 general election is just around the corner and the opposition parties will rip him to shreds.  Frankly, Mr Prentice will be lucky if his “honeymoon” period lasts more than a day.

Clearly explain what you’re doing and why: Mr Prentice provided a high level explanation for his new cabinet (new faces reflect a new government) but he doesn’t control the narrative around why certain MLAs are exiting cabinet and caucus.

Mr Hancock retires

Why did Dave Hancock decide to retire? Why are Neil Brown and Wayne Cao falling all over themselves to offer Mr Prentice their seats? Why did Ken Hughes run for the PC leadership in March and announce his decision to leave politics altogether just 5 months later? What do they know that we don’t know?

Be bold: Here’s where the trial balloon for appointing non-elected cabinet ministers comes into play. This is the riskiest thing Mr Prentice has ever done because it’s an admission that his caucus is thin on talent and that he’s prepared to short-circuit the democratic process in order to fill the gaps.

This is insulting to existing MLAs, most of whom worked hard to ensure he’d be elected party leader and places the party at great risk because the only way Mr Prentice can legitimize appointed cabinet ministers (who are not accountable because they operate outside the House) is to call a number of by-elections quickly.

Failure to win these by-elections equates to a vote of non-confidence in Mr Prentice and his government.

The only way Mr Prentice can avoid this risk is by delaying the by-elections on the excuse that at $200,000 a pop they’re too expensive and the voters will have an opportunity to legitimize the appointed cabinet ministers in the general election in 2016.  Given that Mr Prentice created the need for more by-elections he can’t argue against them on the basis of cost.

“Own” the careers of senior talent: In order to pull off a “clean sweep” a CEO must be able to exert strong influence over the careers of his top 100 to 300 executives. Mr Prentice can influence the careers of 58 MLAs. He can try to persuade certain cabinet ministers to hang up their spurs, but some of them (Finance Minister Horner springs to mind) won’t go quietly.

Mr Horner

A premature “retirement” or an unexpected “demotion” will rile up PC party members and constituents who are deeply loyal to the unseated MLAs. The outcome? Even more fissures and instability within the PC party and the government, further heightening the chances that the PCs will lose in 2016.

Enlist Board support: Corporate CEOs have boards of directors to give them air cover as they move ahead with their “new broom” strategies. The premier-designate does not. The best Mr Prentice can hope for is support from PC party leadership which means he’ll owe them one;  nicely offsetting the debt they owe him for winning the leadership race in the first place.   

New brooms

The McKinsey study is telling us something we already know.

Enlisting a “new leader” to run an “old party” will not create a “new government” because unlike the private sector, the “new leader” is not at liberty to make the sweeping changes desperately needed to re-invent the PC government.

So bring on the 2016 election!!!  Let’s see what the “new brooms” from other parties have to offer.

*Calgary Herald, Sept 13, 2014, A5

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12 Responses to Jim Prentice Names his Cabinet: New Brooms Sweep Clean or Do They?

  1. Jim Lees says:

    I think he may need an industrial strength vacuum cleaner to clean out this mess….

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Carlos and Jim: Mr Prentice named Stephen Mandel to the Health Portfolio. I’ve heard mixed reviews of the man. Apparently he’s one of those “my way or the highway” types. If this is the case, life is going to get even more difficult at AHS. I can’t wait to see who Prentice (Mandel?) appoints to the AHS board.

  2. Carlos Beca says:

    what we need is Liquid Plumr – it is rot to the septic tank

  3. Carlos and Jim: I’m reading Jim Prentice’s announcement of the new cabinet. I wonder what Doug Horner, appointed to the non-Cabinet position (according to the press release) as Senior Advisor to the Premier on Internal Trade (internal trade?) and Federal and Provincial Relations will be doing? More importantly where will he sit in the Legislature, close to the Premier? in the second row? Seating hierarchy—the true indicator of power.

    • Ted says:

      Regarding Doug Horner I wonder if it’s a case of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. At any rate, like to appointments of Mandel and Dirks, there is definitely an agenda. Having said that, it also appears that climate change is getting receiving the same treatment as the federal government’s talk but no action.

  4. moriddle@gmail.com says:

    this might be of interest to you, you could also check out the alberta surface rights group page on facebook, other parties are commenting there http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2014/09/16/Fracking-Suit-Supreme-Court/?utm_source=daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=160914

  5. Carol Wodak says:

    Re: eldercare – see Mandate letters given to Ministers by Premier Prentice, September 16, 2014 http://alberta.ca/mandate.cfm …. Especially Stephen Mandel, Minister of Health; Jeff Johnson, Minister of Seniors; Manmeet Bhullar, Minister of Infrastructure; Heather Klimchuk, Minister of Human Services.
    Despite the Seniors’ Ministry, the others have the decision-making and budget control re: care, services, information and housing.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      This is very nice but we have had these nice words for 43 years now and people can say anything they want but without tangible changes I do not really care about letters and papers and cards and great dramatic Shakespearean scenes. I am done with politicians and I am not the only one. If they continue the sick behaviour of previous governments they will be down even faster than Alison Redford.

  6. Carol Wodak says:

    The honeymoon is well under way, with bits of cake [no planes, old license plates, moratorium on closing Michener, Bills 9 & 10 gone for now, more consultation on LTC …] being served to folks eager for relief… is this pixie dust? Watch the details carefully.

    • Carol, we’re being swamped with announcements indicating that the PC government under Jim Prentice will reverse all of the PCs failed policies. This is a huge job. It will take years of effort (even in the hands of a skillful leader with the best of intentions); frankly I think the PCs have run out of time.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        I read a comment this morning that I thought it explained it all well. As you know they are also changing lobby rules, travelling rules….etc all to protect against party abuses. So the comment was something like – the government is working hard to protect the province from government abuses, or in other words from PC party members abuses. What kind of trust is this? Really? Just resign and call early elections. Just go visit the lieutenant governor and admit that this government is a total failure and needs to be replaced. This is what honest people and with some integrity would do. As far as I am concerned they are just trying to stay in power no matter what. We would be better off with no government.

      • Carlos, I join you in asking the government to call an early election. Even Prentice has no faith in the government. In the Sun he’s quoted as saying “There was a desire for new blood. I brought new blood in to the degree I could. I couldn’t bring in seven new ministers that were unelected.” So I guess he’s identified at least 7 MLAs who don’t belong in Cabinet. We’re not off to a good start are we.

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