There's an overwhelming urge to joke about a cabinet shuffle dedicated to renewal where one of the fresh new faces is 79 years of age.
But septuagenarian rookie Ralph Sultan's arrival Wednesday at the inner circle is a genuine example of someone who arrives in cabinet on his own terms, bringing what could be called a new approach.
On paper, Sultan was an obvious choice for cabinet years before now. A professional engineer, he earned three degrees from Harvard, including a PhD, before the Vietnam War even began in earnest.
He taught at Harvard for years, then served a decade as the Royal Bank's chief economist. He got into politics in West Vancouver at an age when most people are retiring. But he has spent more than a decade as a backbencher, passed over countless time for cabinet slots.
Why? Insiders say it's his penchant for blunt criticism. He had a habit of discussing obvious problems directly in front of the people who are responsible for them — a certain former premier comes to mind — that kept him out of cabinet.
Until Wednesday, when he signed on as the obviously best-qualified minister of state responsible for seniors. He was comically direct about the appointment.
"I don't have an agenda to offer because I just heard about this job less than 24 hours ago," he said. "Check with me in about a week."
He was quite direct about the B.C. Liberals' position these days.
"My good friend George Abbott talked (during the leadership run) about being in the ditch and I don't think we should sugarcoat that proposition," he said.
Sultan's portfolio won't make or break the Liberal government. What's important is that there's a shrewd new straight-shooter talking directly to other cabinet ministers and the premier.
Sultan charted his course early on by bluntly criticizing the decision to build new B.C. ferries in Germany at the expense of the shipyard in his riding. He also wrote a scathing letter to a health authority about its plans to close a care home that left no doubt he thought they were all numbskulls.
After a clumsy, mostly pointless attempt to whittle down the number of disabled people on welfare caused the government no end of grief, officials were invited to a public committee meeting to explain the situation.
Sultan opened with a genial inquiry: "It was not one of the more glorious moments in the history of your ministry. Who screwed up?"
He also has a tendency to drive deeply into the root causes on issues. After reports came to light that his own affluent riding had one of the worst child-poverty rates in Canada, he spent a year on a personal investigation. He concluded the finding was nonsense, but had a number of other observations on how to better the lot of low-income earners.
People won't likely hear Sultan's political advice in secret cabinet meetings. But it will probably be sage and direct.
The rest of the patchwork quilt Clark sewed together is a thrifty example of making do with what's available. She kept the size down (19, including her) and named nine parliamentary secretaries to share the loads.
Nine of her appointees are in their first term (and what a chaotic term it's been). But only two of them — Sultan and Norm Letnick (Kelowna-Lake Country) are brand-new to cabinet.
Assuming acceptance of the job offers denotes intentions to run again, the new lineup leaves three Liberals on the outside with question marks about their future: Colin Hansen (Vancouver-Lonsdale), Randy Hawes (Abbotsford-Mission) and John Slater (Boundary-Similkameen).
There may be room for a bit more drama before the final push.
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