Charest's cabinet might be first mistake of new government

Paradis is left out of inner circle and free to make mischief from sidelines

Gouvernement Charest minoritaire

U.S. President Lyndon Johnson was once asked why he didn't fire J. Edgar Hoover, who was often accused of abusing his authority as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and who had the dirt on everybody in Washington.
Because, Johnson said, "it's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in."
By now, Premier Jean Charest should have realized the same thing about Pierre Paradis. Since Charest left the former Liberal minister on the backbenches when he formed his first cabinet four years ago, Paradis has caused trouble for the premier more than once.
Still, there had been speculation that Charest would swallow hard and bring Paradis into his second-term cabinet as a gesture to the Liberal Party, of which Paradis has been a member a lot longer than its leader.
But it seems that, like his mentor Brian Mulroney, Charest is more concerned with what someone did to him in the past than what that person might do for him in the future. So maybe it was to punish Paradis for his transgressions that he was again excluded from the new cabinet the premier announced yesterday.
If so, then after a first term plagued by errors, Charest might have started his second one by committing another. For vengeance is a luxury that the head of a minority government can ill afford.
Charest could have used the experience and political sense of the 26-year veteran of the National Assembly at the cabinet table. And as a backbencher, Paradis will not be bound by ministerial solidarity. Last year, he voted against the government's legislation to sell part of the Mont Orford park, then threatened to resign and get the support of his constituents in a by-election if he was punished. He is too independent to leave outside the tent.
Paradis's exclusion helped keep Charest's new cabinet the smallest since before 1960, with only 18 members in addition to the premier to run a government that has grown exponentially in size and complexity in the 47 years since the start of the Quiet Revolution.
It was apparently for cosmetic purposes that the cabinet was reduced in size from 25 ministers before the election. This allowed Charest to achieve an exact balance between men and women and between ministers from the Montreal area and from the rest of the province, despite the latter's under-representation in the Liberal caucus.
Of the only eight Liberal MNAs who survived outside of the party's traditional strongholds in southern and western Quebec, six made it into the cabinet. And it would have been seven, had not former minister Yvon Vallieres, who is recovering from cancer, requested a lighter workload.
As a result, some MNAs who were more experienced and at least as qualified as some of the new ministers were either passed over or dropped from the cabinet. Lawrence Bergman and Geoffrey Kelley had the double disadvantage of being English-speaking as well as from Montreal, paying the price for anglophones' unconditional loyalty to the Liberal Party.
There is only one English-speaking minister, the fewest in a Liberal government since 1994. She is Yolande James, who has shown promise since entering the Assembly in a by-election three years ago, but probably owes her early promotion to the cabinet at least as much to the symbolic advantages of her colour (Charest played up the fact that she is Quebec's first black minister) and her youth (she is not yet 30).
Despite her inexperience, she's been handed the potentially explosive issue of the "reasonable accommodation" of non-Christian religious practices, with instructions from Charest to uphold fundamental Quebec values.
Some anglophones took note when James won her by-election and, instead of going to her West Island riding of Nelligan to congratulate her, Charest had her come into town to the riding of another Liberal candidate who lost.
And yesterday, Charest's office misspelled James's first name in the first version of the cabinet announcement it sent out to reporters by email, adding insult to the injury of further reducing the political influence of anglophones.

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