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.
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.
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.
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.
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