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The little government that grew: Alison Redford shuffles deckchairs on her cabinet

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Well, it's one way to keep your more restive conservative caucus members from running across the floor of the House to join the Wildrose Opposition, I guess.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford shuffled the deckchairs for her ministers yesterday, and when the dust had settled, more than half her 58-member caucus had a cabinet job and the paycheque to go with it.

So no one can say making a cabinet in Alberta isn't a Titanic job! And it was just a year and a half ago the same people were bragging about shrinking the cabinet, being fiscally responsible and all that stuff. Well, that was then…

Presumably this is a great deal if you happen to be one of the lucky 52-per-centers and you'd been worrying about how to make ends meet after that symbolic three-year pay freeze Finance Minister Doug Horner just made you take. Alert readers will recall that so-called freeze was intended to justify using legislation to circumvent collective bargaining and hammer public employees into helping the government balance it’s budget in time to beat the Wildrosers again in 2016.

Just a thought, but here's betting there will be a little something for the other 48 per cent of the Progressive Conservative caucus as well, now that Ebenezer Redford has had a moment to think about the true meaning of Christmas in Alberta. After all, not a single one of them had the intestinal fortitude to do anything but cheerfully submit to Redford's arbitrary measures, and you've just got to reward that kind of behavour.

So much for stopping the "gravy train," though.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which had been whacked particularly hard by the passage on Thursday of Bill 46, legislation that stripped the union of the right to arbitration to make up for the fact civil servants in this province can't legally strike, was pretty cranky after just having been told it was getting nothing in its sock this year and next but lumps of coal.

In a news release yesterday, AUPE President Guy Smith concluded Redford's announcement her cabinet is growing to 30 members immediately after she froze civil servant salaries for two years "is further proof of how detached she is from normal Albertans."

"For Redford to pad the wages of her caucus with three new cabinet posts the same week as legislating a wage freeze for frontline employees is not just out of touch, it is fundamentally offensive," Smith said, making a point of noting that ministers with portfolios will now receive an additional $67,000 on top of their generous MLA base salary of $134,000, while ministers without portfolios will get an extra $30,150.

"It looks like the promise of 'living within our means' only applies to those who do the real work in government," said Smith.

About which Tory caucus members thought, I have no doubt, "What's your point, Guy?" Anyway, as has been noted in this space before, the symbolic freeze taken by MLAs probably didn't hurt that much, since they'd just had a 71.5-per-cent pay increase just the previous April!

Well, not according to Horner, who complained to the Edmonton Journal in a letter that such irresponsible use of arithmetic fails to account for the location of the bean under the shells, that being the fact MLA pay has recently been "simplified." After MLAs' previous tax-free pay and committee stipends were taken away, he explained, the result was an average income drop of 8 per cent.

Could be, I guess. But since nobody seems to know what the average MLA's income actually is, this just makes it sound as if Redford's PC Party hacks can dish it out, but can't take it.

As for the cabinet shuffle itself, some ministers moved up and some moved down, but while there were a few winners, it's hard to claim that there were any real losers. It's not like there were any pay cuts to go with the demotions!

The most significant changes seems to be the elevation of Dave Hancock to Deputy Premier and the shuffling of the undiplomatic Thomas Lukaszuk to a portfolio called Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour, a title that manages to be Orwellian and Monte Pythonesque at the same time.

Lukaszuk's loss of the deputy premier title was portrayed by the Globe and Mail as a demotion, but I'm not so sure. As the new minister of Toil, Moil, Drudgery and Servitude, he increasingly plays for Redford the role Vermilion veterinarian Steve West acted out for Ralph Klein -- minister of picking fights and wrecking stuff.

As such, wherever Lukaszuk lands suggests that's where Ms. Redford wants to pick a fight next, and now that he's finished making a shambles of Advanced Education, he's been sent down the hall to sort out the unions.

In other words, this likely means the Premier's Strategic Brain Trust has concluded there's more to be gained from a noisy public fight with public service unions than letting the media continue to write stories about such uncomfortable issues as the health care system unraveling or children dying in foster care. And no doubt the Alberta media will be happy to cooperate.

Lukaszuk will now do his part, while Hancock emits soothing noises. And if that doesn't work out, they can always set the Premier's communications department loose calling Opposition staffers sophomoric names on Twitter.

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IMPORTANT NOTE TO READERS: This blog will fall silent for a few days. While your faithful blogger has been deeply chilled by Alberta's weather, he assures readers he has not been chilled by Bill 46's companion legislation, Bill 45, An Act to Protect Albertans From Bloggers Like Dave Climenhaga and Dave Cournoyer, as some observers have suggested could happen. He is merely taking a short break. Alberta Diary should return, as willing as ever to use the F-word that the Redford Tories hate ("Freedom"), on about Dec. 16. Hasta luego!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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