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Today's cabinet appointments likely to disappoint Alberta's 'strategic' voters

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Alberta Premier Alison Redford

Later today, Alberta Premier Alison Redford will announce whom she has picked to fill her cabinet.

As a consequence, today is almost certain to be the start of a disappointment for the thousands of Alberta teachers, health care workers, union members, soccer moms and other progressive citizens who cast their ballots strategically, some might say foolishly, for the premier's Progressive Conservative Party on April 23.

They did it, of course, largely to keep the far-right Wildrose Party out of power, and in that they succeeded. But many also acted in the naïve hope Redford really offered a genuinely progressive alternative.

Anything's possible, and at the moment only Redford and a few advisors truly know her mind. Since they only need to play it close to the vest for a few more hours, we'll find out for sure soon enough.

Until today, there was surprisingly little speculation in the media or the blogosphere about which PC MLAs are going to fill which cabinet portfolios -- suggesting pretty strongly that Redford and her advisors have been effective at keeping a lid on their plans.

But the smart money is on there not being very much that's "progressive" at all about this Conservative cabinet.

That means tomorrow will also likely be a disappointment for the 17-member Wildrose caucus, the official Opposition party, at least if they hope to be able to contrast themselves with Redford's government as the even-further-right alternative.

There's not going to be much there for them to oppose, with or without a capital O, if the marginally smaller PC cabinet announced tomorrow is filled with the likely mix of the usual suspects from cabinets of yore and their untested ideological doppelgangers from the latest class of freshman Tory MLAs.

There was some speculation in a local tabloid that Redford would choose a former oil company executive to be the energy minister, Calgary-Varsity MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans. And more that she'd pick a hard-ass neo-Con neophyte who was rejected in favour of a more liberal candidate when he ran for mayor of Calgary as her finance minister, Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver.

Well, we'll see about that. Neither of these would be particularly good choices from a progressive perspective, but pretty much par for the course in eternally Tory Alberta.

Interestingly, up to now there seems to have been very little excogitation about who is likely to be the next health minister, so, reading between the lines, one is tempted to conclude that means it’ll be the old privatizer Fred Horne, MLA for Edmonton Rutherford, back again. If this speculation is right, I guess we'll see if the government's pre-election conversion to the idea of all-public health care all the time was less a real Road-to-Damascus experience than merely a foxhole promise to the God of Elections to start behaving themselves if tomorrow ever dawned.

Redford is also said to trust Calgary-West MLA Ken Hughes, the former chair of Alberta Health Services -- heaven knows, she tried hard enough to ensure he got the nomination so he could get elected -- so it's probably a given he'll surface in an important cabinet post. I'm looking for Thomas Lukaszuk, Edmonton-Castle Down, who was promoted to education minister by Redford, to be back too -- the Edmonton Journal says he'll replace Spruce Grove MLA Doug Horner as deputy premier.

And there was an intriguing buzz just today that the new legislative dean, veteran Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Dave Hancock -- who was put in charge of the Social Services super ministry, which included responsibility for labour, in the pre-election cabinet -- would be allowed nowhere near the labour portfolio because he's too sympathetic to the idea of fair collective bargaining.

It will also be interesting to see what the premier does with Horner, who is both highly capable and pretty much a Red Tory by Alberta standards. The Journal predicts he'll retain the role of President of Treasury Board.

At this juncture, Redford is short a few members of the old Tory crowd, having pushed out some cabinet veterans before the election and seen a few others conveniently fall to the Wildrose Wave, which turned out not to be nearly as wild as we had all been led to expect. This no doubt suits her because it's important she demonstrate "change," and it naturally encourages speculation there are bound to be new faces in cabinet.

When you get right down to it, Redford can do pretty well whatever she pleases because she hardly owes anyone any favours -- absolutely no one from her last caucus who is still in her current one supported her leadership bid.

So I'm not going to trot out every name that's been mentioned over the past few weeks because the probably of getting it wrong is quite high and we'll all know later today anyway.

The important thing to take note of is that the disappointment among progressive voters who thought they were being strategic by voting Tory is likely to be palpable when they see just how unprogressive a crowd they have contributed to electing. If they don't fully get it tomorrow, they will soon enough as the new cabinet settles in and gets down to work.

The level of disappointment is not likely to be much different among the die-hard supporters of the Wildrose Party, who must know their party cannot live long and prosper if it offers the identical far-right bromides to the right-wing party that has the advantage of being in power. The probability is that this will push the Wildrose even farther to the right -- and farther from the electoral mainstream that briefly considered them last month, gulped, and returned to the comfortable old Tories.

Indeed, the only people in the Legislature who don't need to feel particularly broken-hearted are the five Alberta Liberals and four New Democrats. They will have the opportunity of saying, nicely of course, "I told you so" to many of their own supporters, and to the rest of Alberta, "What did you expect?"

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

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