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Appointment of Stephen Mandel to health services board proves failure's no barrier to success in Kenney's Alberta

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Stephen Mandel, at right, when he was health minister in 2014, with premier Jim Prentice, who appointed him before he was elected. Image: David J. Climenhaga

Who says Premier Jason Kenney can't unite Albertans?

Sometime today, Kenney will appoint Stephen Mandel to the governing board of Alberta Health Services. Well, the announcement will be made by Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

Late yesterday, as the word of the appointment leaked out, moans of despair could be heard quietly issuing from all points of the province's political compass.

After all, just for starters, the former Edmonton mayor is "a meddling busybody, eat your peas, nanny statist."

Don't take my word for that. That line is Lorne Gunter's, made by the reliably right-wing Postmedia columnist back in the fall of 2014, not long after then Progressive Conservative premier Jim Prentice made Mandel his unelected health minister.

Mandel did manage to get elected a month after his appointment in a byelection in Edmonton-Whitemud, a generally safe Conservative riding, where he served as MLA for seven months until the NDP sweep on May 5, 2015. Notwithstanding the majority victory of Kenney's United Conservative Party last April, though, Edmonton-Whitemud remains an NDP riding.

It will be interesting to see how Gunter, who was worried Mandel might ban menthol tobacco, reacts to the former minister's latest public job now that the conservative columnist's wife has been appointed by Kenney's government to the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

For their part, public health-care advocates recall how Mandel was the only Alberta health minister ever to refuse to enforce his own department's regulations, at least when it came to minimum staffing requirements for the province's nursing homes.

Mandel's major accomplishment during his short tenure as health minister seems to have been an insignificant reorganization of monolithic AHS's management structure that the Prentice government tried to pass off as a major decentralization of health care as demanded in those days by the now defunct Wildrose Party. He left mentholated tobacco to be banned by the NDP in 2015.

Speaking of deceased political parties, I'm sure that supporters of the all-but-dead Alberta Party recall less than fondly the mess Mandel left when he developed an interest in them, managed to oust their capable leader and only MLA, Greg Clark, then led the party to an ignominious total defeat with zero seats in last April's election.

After that, he swiftly announced he was resigning and leaving the Alberta Party to its fate.

Indeed, after his successful three-term run as Edmonton's chief magistrate ended in 2013, Mandel, 74, seems to have left a trail of devastation in his attempts to get out of the house and return to public life.

That is unlikely to change. Calgary Herald political columnist Don Braid claimed late yesterday that Premier Kenney "hopes this will be seen as a symbol of cross-party cooperation during the health-care upheaval to come." You all know what that means.

Still, it's nice to know that in Premier Kenney's back-to-the-future Conservative Alberta, failure is no barrier to success!

School board overwhelmingly supports amnesty for protesting students

About that Edmonton public school board vote to declare an amnesty from academic consequences for students who walk out of their classes tomorrow to take part in a global strike for climate action demonstration at the Alberta legislature: Trustee Michael Janz's motion passed with ease.

The only opposition to the 6-1 vote Tuesday evening came from Trustee Sherry Adams, who argued the "science is not settled" on climate change. Adams was an unsuccessful UCP nomination candidate in the lead-up to the April provincial election that saw a UCP majority elected.

"I believe we're doing our students a disservice by not allowing them to hear a different narrative," she told her gobsmacked fellow trustees.

Well, this kind of qualified scepticism is obviously still de rigueur in UCP circles, where they're doubtless fuming about the un-Albertan behaviour of the capital city's public school trustees. Adams has also opposed evidence-based sex education.

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 Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: David J. Climenhaga

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