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Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Premier Rachel Notley introduces six new cabinet members … pretty flawlessly

| February 3, 2016
Notley Cabinet

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Introducing her freshly shuffled cabinet at Government House yesterday morning, Premier Rachel Notley demonstrated again why she remains the Alberta NDP's greatest asset -- engaging, believable, well briefed, thoughtful and thoroughly persuasive.

The cabinet shuffle wasn't bad either.

But as Notley's bravura performance before the Edmonton media clearly demonstrated, the NDP strategic brain trust really needs to get her out more, where she can work her magic on Martha and Henry Albertan, instead of just the same old crowd of cynical journos.

With the addition of five new ministers and one associate minister, the shuffle achieved one desperately needed goal above all: it included enough members for almost every minister to hold a single portfolio, or its equivalent, so that no one minister must struggle just to do her job, or his.

But, just in case the opposition or the media took a notion to complain about that, the cabinet is still smaller than any previous Alberta cabinet in the past decade and smaller than any other cabinet in Western Canada, including the one in the province next door to the east with a big name, a small population and a conservative government.

The highlights?

Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman, who early on emerged as the most capable minister in Notley's original cabinet, is now deputy premier as well as remaining minister of health, where she is already highly respected by people at all levels who work in the health care field. Calgary-Acadia MLA Brandy Payne was named associate minister of health, to help with the workload inevitable in such a crucial and large portfolio.

Marlin Schmidt, the well-regarded MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar was named minister of advanced education. New Democrats who were unhappy that this capable and hardworking member was not in the first cabinet, and there were many, will be pleased.

Stephanie McLean, MLA for Calgary-Varsity, another representative who was touted as potential cabinet material in the first go-round, was named the minister of Service Alberta and minister responsible for the status of women. This was a highly symbolic appointment -- McLean is one of two new members of the cabinet who are expecting. The other soon-to-be mom is Payne.

The government is serious about helping parents manage their careers and their families, Notley pointedly observed. And just let the Opposition try to attack that!

Ricardo Miranda, MLA for Calgary-Cross, is the new minister of culture and tourism. He is Alberta's first openly gay minister of the Crown.

The department of Aboriginal Relations has been renamed Indigenous Relations, "reflecting the preferences of Indigenous communities," Notley observed, continuing with the NDP's policy of treating Indigenous communities with respect. This is only worthy of note because other governments have historically been so disrespectful. Richard Feehan, MLA for Edmonton-Rutherford, was named minister of Indigenous relations.

The government also created a Climate Change Office, which will report to Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips, the MLA for Lethbridge-West.

Christina Gray, MLA for Edmonton-Mill Woods, was named the minister of labour and the minister responsible for democratic renewal, a new portfolio. Gray has been given the responsibility of reviewing the recommendations of the all-party committee appointed by the government last June to review the Election Act, the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, the Conflicts of Interest Act, and the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act.

The appointment of Gray and Schmidt to their portfolios also removes Edmonton-Riverview MLA Lori Sigurdson from the Labour file, which she arguably flubbed on the Bill 6 farm safety issue, as well as the advanced education portfolio. She remains responsible for seniors and housing, which sure sounds like a demotion to me.

So what does that leave the Opposition to complain about? Not much, if they're using their heads -- which is never guaranteed, of course.

I suppose they could complain that the department previously known as something like that of jobs, skills, training, really small minimum wage increases, work, and, oh yeah, labour is now named after what it actually does.

They could also whinge a little that the deputy premier should have come from Calgary.

They could try to complain about the fact Notley made a point of maintaining gender parity in her cabinet -- 10 women and nine men -- and suggest that quality, not gender, should be the guiding principle.

Readers can probably count on it they'll do all those things. But, everything considered, that's pretty thin gruel. Plus, what would all the men do if brains and qualifications were the only basis on which cabinet selections were selected?

So, it's said here, yesterday was a pretty good day for the Notley government.

Considering the controversy generated by the NDP's U-turn on resource royalty rates at the end of last week, which made some traditional NDP supporters feel pretty blue but as blogger Susan Wright pointed out also backed the two conservative opposition parties into a policy cul-de-sac, they’re not doing badly in the bigger political picture either.

It doesn't even hurt, as Edmonton Journal political columnist Graham Thomson observed yesterday that Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan complained to a Sun columnist about the government's change of course on royalties. "By incurring the wrath of Alberta's more left-leaning organizations, the NDP suddenly looks more moderate and realistic," Thomson observed.

After the royalty review reported on Friday, the Notley government followed up on Monday with the announcement of a job-creation program designed to directly pump half a billion dollars into the economy by letting petrochemical companies get and resell royalty credits for investing in value-added plants. The government predicts this program could result in $5 billion in investments in the province's energy sector.

Also on Monday, Finance Minister Joe Ceci ruled out listening to a call by a group of prominent academics to implement a sales tax. That may or may not be sound economic policy, but it will also be hard for the opposition parties to attack the government since they all share the same consensus on that issue.

Today, Premier Notley is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which should generate a few more headlines and some news photos of the two photogenic leaders standing together on the steps of the Legislature.

So what's left for the Opposition? The #Kudatah? The magical, peaceful removal of the government that's supposed to happen in a week, or maybe when the Legislature resumes sitting on March 8. I only mention that in case, like any sensible person, you'd forgotten.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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