Recently premier Jim Prentice announced his new cabinet and thus presented the public with the faces of our new(est) Progressive Conservative government. While there has been speculation for weeks surrounding whom Prentice would appoint, the end result was almost as predictable as could be. The Premier needed new faces to replace the old ones plagued with scandal, but he also needed Ministers with actual cabinet experience. There was no question that some of those faces had to go if the government was truly to be branded as “new”, but the unanswered questions were who Prentice felt needed dropping, which backbenchers would get a promotion, and who, if anyone, was to be appointed from outside the elected ranks of the PC caucus.
The answer? Prentice eliminated most ministers involved in any form of scandal with a few notable exceptions. All new ministers who were promoted from the PC backbench are largely unknown and exert an aura of youth, energy, or both. Some are simply seasoned cabinet veterans who have managed to remain out of the spotlight. Other choices make you shake your head in wonder.
The new cabinet also gives great insight into Tory strategy for the next election, an idea that was cemented with the new premier’s selection of the only two unelected members of his new government. By appointing two highly respected statesmen with municipal government backgrounds in both of Alberta’s big cities, Prentice was able to associate his new government with popular figures right off the bat. The only thing left was to appoint a batch of MLA’s to cabinet who had not been torn apart by the media, were not recognizable by the Alberta public, and if possible had previous cabinet experience. It’s understandable why Prentice wanted a short list.
It was clear that Alberta would see a new minister of finance given Doug Horner’s close ties with Alison Redford, in addition to the worst press conference of his career. After the Auditor Generals Report, the then Finance Minister did his best to promptly explain that while his ministry was entirely responsible for overseeing the use of government owned aircraft, he was in no way at fault for the miss-use of any government owned aircrafts. It resembled a teenager explaining to parents how the party they threw was entirely the fault of a friend. Needless to say, it didn’t go over well.
Horner’s replacement Robin Campbell has served as a government whip, the minister of Aboriginal Affairs, and most recently the minister of Environment and Sustainable Resources. Prior to being elected he chaired the Northern Alberta Development Council. A genuine, experienced, and hardworking politician who has gone largely unnoticed is as best a pick as possible for arguably the second most important and scrutinized figure in provincial politics.
Much of what goes on from here is a classic cabinet shuffle, with a couple of surprises here and there. Someone needed to replace Campbell’s post at Environment and Sustainable Resources. The new minister Kyle Fawcett was promoted after a short gig as minister of Training, Jobs, and Labor, a post he was given after Thomas Lukaszuk stepped down to run for the leadership. A fresh, energetic face with some cabinet experience is another excellent pick for the front bench and a new government.
We see the same theme of experience and energy in all of the others that received promotions from within the Tory Caucus. Stephen Khan, Don Scott, Maureen Kubinec, David Dorward, and Manmeet Bhullar, our new ministers and associate ministers of Service Alberta, Advanced Education, Culture and Tourism, Aboriginal Affairs, and Infrastructure respectively are all experienced, liked by the public, and were able to remain unaffected by the Redford scandal because they were outside the circle of blame. Stephen Khan and Don Scot both have cabinet experience and very likeable personalities. Maureen Kubinec is incredibly intelligent, well respected, and the pink blazer is the exclamation point on her energy factor. Manmeet Bhullar handled the media well in Human Services after the Foster Care inquiries, and everyone loves David Dorward who is known as an incredibly hard worker and can greatly help Premier Prentice run Aboriginal Affairs.
While no one could outright predict who amongst the inner Tory rankings would get promoted, everyone knew it would happen. What people weren’t sure about is whether any notable names, people whom you’d want to help run a government with given your options, would be outright dropped. The answer as it turns out is a resounding yes, and there were a few surprises to be had both in regards to not only those kicked out, but those held onto. The first range of surprises came immediately from those still remaining on the list of ministers.
Ric MicIver was the first big shock. After a very nasty leadership race, controversy surrounding his views on LGBTQ rights, and most notably after being not just sort of associated, but very associated with the Sky Palace, you’d think MicIver was one of the first names to be dropped if you wanted to avoid a scandalous image. He may have been demoted from Infrastructure to Training, Jobs, and Labor, but its very surprising he wasn’t canned outright with Thomas Lukaszuk, who most ironically occupied the same ministry as MicIver does currently when he himself was demoted as Deputy Premier.
The other two surprises in terms of who got to stay were our new Seniors minister Jeff Johnson and our same old minister of Transportation Wayne Drsysdale. Johnson is the most shocking of these two, given that he had a Motion of Non-Confidence passed against him by the Alberta Teachers Association, which is a pretty big deal. Again he’s been demoted, but it’s unclear why he’s being kept around. It’s amusing to wonder that if the man couldn’t get along with teachers how he’ll do any better with seniors. Wayne Drysdale is slightly less shocking, however he was another Minister involved with the SkyPalace scandal. To this day Drysdale claims he had no idea what was happening, though he was still very much associated with it.
With that said, though all of those listed above have had their names muddied politically, it must be remembered that they were still ministers who dealt with a great deal and have experience governing. It’s understandable the Premier would have to allow some of those who had been effected by the Redford scandals back into cabinet. Yet the new cabinet is brought into even further question when one considers the list of names the Premier decided he didn’t need, because a lot of them were considered much better at governing than many of his choices and had been involved in far less scandal than many of the names above.
The first that screams out in regards to this topic is Fred Horne. Soft spoken, polite, caring, and engaged are words people typically associate with Fred Horne. He had been in his portfolio for three years, something almost unheard of in recent PC governments. He was certainly close with Redford, and he was at the helm of the Alberta Health Services Board scandal, but he handled the media fairly well given the coverage surrounding the event. Sure, there was reason to fire him, but the reasons were significantly lighter than they were for say Ric MicIver or Jeff Johnson. The other big name that was dropped is Greg Weadick, who served as Advanced Education minister under Premier Stelmach and Munincipal Affairs minister under Redford. His scandal level was zero and he had served on two cabinets under two governments. He is also one of the PC’s only seats in southern Alberta. For that matter there are only three P.C. seats in southern Alberta, and none received a cabinet post.
In addition to Weadick there were also some other experienced ministers who had stayed clear of scandal but were still let go. Richard Starke and Cal Dallas are another two examples of ministers who kept their noses clean but were still ultimately axed. Doug Griffiths is another name to mention; he was the minister of Municipal Affairs that made all the Mayors angry. In terms of public image, this is almost as bad as the Education Minister being told by unanimously of teachers he was doing a bad job, but still not quite. Many of these demotions can be credited to Prentice’s public aim to reduce his sitting cabinet to its current 20 members. The new Premier’s relationship with any of these individuals is also not as well known, so there’s realistically no telling why he made these decisions. Yet there are still questions around why he chose two or three experienced Ministers who had been laced with scandal over two or three experienced ministers who didn’t really get into any trouble at all.
Despite the shock of some who remained, there were some lucky MLA’s who served under Redford but still got to keep their ministry or take on another. Heather Klimchuk has been the minister of Culture for three years, and didn’t have to answer questions about airplanes or construction projects. She’s also well liked in Edmonton and her promotion to minister of Human Services makes sense politically. Verlyn Olson also has three years of cabinet experience and is from a more rural riding; keeping him in Agriculture also makes sense sense. Premier Prentice decided to hold onto Frank Oberle too, who has four years of Cabinet experience, and was shuffled to Diana McQueen’s ministry, Energy. McQueen was Mayor of Drayton Valley for seven years and is incredibly popular there. It wouldn’t make sense to drop her, so she got Greg Weadick’s old job in Munincipal Affairs in addition to the position of Government House Leader. Teresa Woo-Pow and Naresh Bhardwaj, both of who are largely unknown, also got to keep seats at the cabinet table.
What caused the majority of headlines over this new cabinet however was the appointment of two non-elected members. Though many suspected it would happen, it is always a shock to the larger public who don’t study politics for a living that the government is allowed to do this. In reality this is quite a common practice that extends back throughout the history of Westminster Democracies, and Premier Prentice appointing outside individuals is completely legitimate. There are disadvantages however, like showing the public you don’t have confidence in your own elected members, or the risk of your appointed members losing their own election. This is unlikely to happen however due to the gravity behind the two appointees, who are truly indication of the new Premier’s path of trying to hold onto power.
Our new Health minister Stephen Mandel is loved by almost everyone in Edmonton. Sure, there are those who seem to dislike him with a passion, but most Edmontonians would have no problem checking his name again. He’s considered a progressive who will help swing Edmonton seats out of the hands of the New Democrats and back to the PC’s in the Edmonton polls. Similarly, our new Education minister Gordon Dirks is renowned in Calgary for his public service, and though there has been some controversy surrounding him, he is exactly the kind of grass roots Conservative figure who will help swing seats back from the Wildrose to the PC’s in the Calgary polls. It may be risky to appoint these two, but it’s also incredibly clever.
In conclusion, our new cabinet will consist of Jim Prentice who everyone knows, Stephen Mandel who Edmonton knows, Gordon Dirks who Calgary knows, and a bunch of other scattered PC’s that almost no one knows. Unfortunately, anyone besides our new Premier who Albertans are already familiar with is going to have to move back at least one row in the benches, some so far away that all of a sudden they’ll find they are closer to Danielle Smith than their own leader. Some were lucky while others were not, and we’ll never really know why. Ultimately it didn’t matter if this cabinet was representational, which is clear by the clear lack of southern Alberta representatives and the fact that this cabinet only has four women. What mattered was image and bringing in enough new faces to give our new Premier a fresh start.
Banner photograph by Wanderer Online Photography Editor Antony Ta