In the midst of the pandemic, Premier Brian Pallister has overhauled his front bench, replacing his health minister, and added three new faces to his inner circle, including Manitoba's first Black cabinet minister.

In a low-key ceremony in an ornate meeting room at the Legislative Building Tuesday, Pallister named Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson as the province's new minister of health, replacing Cameron Friesen, who assumes responsibility for the justice portfolio.

In the midst of the pandemic, Premier Brian Pallister has overhauled his front bench, replacing his health minister, and added three new faces to his inner circle, including Manitoba's first Black cabinet minister.

In a low-key ceremony in an ornate meeting room at the Legislative Building Tuesday, Pallister named Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson as the province's new minister of health, replacing Cameron Friesen, who assumes responsibility for the justice portfolio.

Cliff Cullen, who oversaw justice and served as attorney general since October 2019, becomes the province's education minister.

New cabinet minister, Audrey Gordon, Minister of Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery, during her first media scrum after Premier Brian Pallister announced his new cabinet, Tuesday morning.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

New cabinet minister, Audrey Gordon, Minister of Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery, during her first media scrum after Premier Brian Pallister announced his new cabinet, Tuesday morning.

Among other key moves, Rochelle Squires moves from municipal relations to families, and Kelvin Goertzen, who had been spearheading the province's school reforms as education minister, becomes deputy premier and head of the newly formed ministry of legislative and public affairs.

Pallister bristled when asked if Friesen had been demoted or had requested to be removed from the high-stress health portfolio.

"I've got a tremendous amount of respect for Cameron Friesen — otherwise he wouldn't be our new justice minister and attorney general," the premier told reporters after the swearing-in ceremony.

Fresh faces 

● Audrey Gordon (Southdale) joins cabinet as minister of mental health, wellness and recovery. She becomes the first Black person to be appointed to the Manitoba cabinet.

● Derek Johnson (Interlake-Gimli) is the new municipal relations minister.

● Wayne Ewasko (Lac du Bonnet) becomes minister of advanced education, skills and immigration.

● Audrey Gordon (Southdale) joins cabinet as minister of mental health, wellness and recovery. She becomes the first Black person to be appointed to the Manitoba cabinet.

● Derek Johnson (Interlake-Gimli) is the new municipal relations minister.

● Wayne Ewasko (Lac du Bonnet) becomes minister of advanced education, skills and immigration.

New portfolios

● Ralph Eichler (Lakeside), who had been the economic development and training minister, is no longer responsible for advanced education. His retains economic development.

● Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson takes over the health portfolio from Cameron Friesen, who becomes justice minister and attorney general. 

● Cliff Cullen (Spruce Woods), who held the justice portfolio, becomes minister of education, tasked with carrying out the government's long-awaited education reforms.

● Steinbach MLA Kelvin Goertzen, who had been in education, becomes minister of legislative and public affairs, a new portfolio, and deputy premier. The latter position had been held by Stefanson.

● Rochelle Squires (Riel), who had been municipal affairs minister, takes over the Families Department.

Staying put 

● Ron Schuler (Springfield-Ritchot) — minister of infrastructure

● Blaine Pedersen (Midland) — minister of agriculture and resource development

● Eileen Clarke (Agassiz) — minister of Indigenous and northern relations

● Cathy Cox (Kildonan-River East) — minister of sports, culture and heritage

● Scott Fielding (Kirkfield Park) — minister of finance

● Jeff Wharton (Red River North) — minister of Crown services

● Reg Helwer (Brandon West) — minister of central services

● Sarah Guillemard (Fort Richmond) — minister of conservation and climate

Friesen became health minister more than two years ago without knowing COVID-19 was on the horizon, the premier said.

"I don't think there's a person in this province who would've wanted the job that he undertook to do as a leader in our Health Department over the last number of months. He's worked diligently and very, very hard on that file."

Pallister wouldn't say if Friesen asked to be moved off the health hot seat.

"It's what the premier wants — let's be clear," he said, referring to himself in the third person. 

"What the premier wants is to make sure people who are capable are in roles of responsibility and that's what the premier got today."

Friesen was seen beaming from ear to ear when he temporarily removed his mask at the ceremony for a photo with Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon.

He did not speak to the media afterwards.

 

Manitoba‘s

shuffled cabinet

Justice and

attorney general

NEW

PORTFOLIO

Legislative and

public affairs

Cullen moved from justice

to education

Cameron Friesen

Education

Kelvin Goertzen

Goertzen moved from education

to legislative and public affairs

Cliff Cullen

Health and

Seniors Care

Friesen moved from health to justice and named

attorney general

Heather Stefanson

Families

Rochelle Squires

Stefanson moved from families

to health

Municipal

Relations

Squires moved from municipal affairs to families

Derek Johnson

NEW

PORTFOLIO

Advanced education,

skills and immigration

NEW

PORTFOLIO

Mental Health, Wellness

and Recovery

Wayne Ewasko

Audrey Gordon

Economic Development

and Jobs

Eichler

no longer

responsible

for advanced

education

Ralph Eichler

Infrastructure

Finance

Ron Schuler

Scott Fielding

Sport, culture

and heritage

Conservation

and climate

Cathy Cox

Sarah Guillemard

Crown services

Central services

Jeff Wharton

Reg Helwer

Agriculture and

resource development

Indigenous and

northern relations

Blaine Pedersen

Eileen Clarke

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

 

Manitoba‘s shuffled cabinet

NEW

PORTFOLIO

Legislative and

public affairs

Cullen moved from justice

to education

Justice and

attorney general

Health and

Seniors Care

Education

Cameron Friesen

Kelvin Goertzen

Friesen moved from health to justice and named

attorney general

Goertzen moved from education

to legislative and public affairs

Cliff Cullen

Heather Stefanson

Families

Stefanson moved from families

to health

Municipal

Relations

Rochelle Squires

Squires moved from municipal affairs to families

Derek Johnson

NEW

PORTFOLIO

Mental Health, Wellness

and Recovery

NEW

PORTFOLIO

Advanced education,

skills and immigration

Economic Development

and Jobs

Eichler

no longer

responsible

for advanced

education

Audrey Gordon

Ralph Eichler

Wayne Ewasko

Crown services

Infrastructure

Central services

Finance

Jeff Wharton

Ron Schuler

Reg Helwer

Scott Fielding

Agriculture and

resource development

Indigenous and

northern relations

Sport, culture

and heritage

Conservation

and climate

Cathy Cox

Blaine Pedersen

Sarah Guillemard

Eileen Clarke

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

 

Manitoba‘s shuffled cabinet

NEW

PORTFOLIO

Legislative and

public affairs

Cullen moved from justice

to education

Justice and

attorney general

Health and

Seniors Care

Education

Kelvin Goertzen

Cameron Friesen

Stefanson moved from families

to health

Friesen moved from health to justice and named

attorney general

Goertzen moved from education

to legislative and public affairs

Cliff Cullen

Heather Stefanson

Economic Development

and Jobs

Families

Eichler

no longer

responsible

for advanced

education

Rochelle Squires

Ralph Eichler

NEW

PORTFOLIO

Advanced education,

skills and immigration

NEW

PORTFOLIO

Mental Health, Wellness

and Recovery

Municipal

Relations

Squires moved from municipal affairs to families

Wayne Ewasko

Audrey Gordon

Derek Johnson

Agriculture and

resource development

Indigenous and

northern relations

Conservation

and climate

Sport, culture

and heritage

Finance

Crown services

Central services

Infrastructure

Scott Fielding

Blaine Pedersen

Jeff Wharton

Eileen Clarke

Reg Helwer

Sarah Guillemard

Ron Schuler

Cathy Cox

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Normally, cabinet swearing-in ceremonies are jammed with MLAs, government officials, family members and journalists. But Tuesday's event was noticeably different due to health protocols.

The room was mostly empty, with the nine ministers — three new ones and a half-dozen others changing jobs — arriving in groups of three to be sworn in and departing before the next cohort arrived.

The premier appointed the province's first Black cabinet minister — Southdale MLA Audrey Gordon, who becomes minister for mental health, wellness and recovery. The province now has a second health minister, as it did under the previous NDP administration.

Also joining cabinet are Lac du Bonnet MLA Wayne Ewasko, who takes on the new advanced education, skills and immigration portfolio, and Interlake-Gimli MLA Derek Johnson, who assumes responsibility over municipal relations.

With the three additions, Pallister's cabinet grows to 18 members, from 15, making it nearly as large as during the dying days of the former NDP government.

Premier Brian Pallister watches the first media scrum that his new cabinet minister, Audrey Gordon, Minister of Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery, held after her appointment on Tuesday.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Brian Pallister watches the first media scrum that his new cabinet minister, Audrey Gordon, Minister of Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery, held after her appointment on Tuesday.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he believes the motivation behind the cabinet shuffle was the need for Pallister to revive his government's "sagging political fortunes" as a result of its mismanagement of the COVID-19 health crisis.

"The bottom line is that Mr. Pallister fired his health minister, and he did so in the middle of the pandemic," Kinew said. "That is not good for Manitoba, but unfortunately, it is a reflection of Mr. Friesen and Mr. Pallister's failings."

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said no minister was demoted in the cabinet shuffle, calling it "a sign that nobody will be held to account for any of the mistakes that have been made over the last many months."

Meanwhile, Pallister said that Goertzen's new role as minister of legislative and public affairs "is to improve our levels of communication — transmitting information openly, making information available and also processing and making sure that our government works better internally in the way in which it develops legislation, the way in which it  communicates it and the way in which it involves Manitobans."

Moving Goertzen out of education in the middle of a pandemic with an overhaul of the K-12 education system expected this year isn't a concern, the premier said.

"There's no perfect time for doing a shuffle," he said.

Squires, who takes over as families minister, has a unique perspective in coming to the job, Pallister said.

"This is a woman who, as a teen mom, was forced to live on welfare, and is now the person in charge of welfare," he said.

"These are inspirational people with inspirational accomplishments," he said of his cabinet. "I have great confidence in them and affection for them."  

 

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

   Read full biography

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

   Read full biography