If you want a measure of the true popularity of Alberta's New Democratic Party government just now, in Edmonton anyway, consider the multitude that assembled in the warm sunshine Sunday afternoon to watch Premier Rachel Notley and her 11 cabinet colleagues sworn in.
There had to be 10,000 people in front of the Alberta Legislature at least, all but a couple of them wearing smiles and no shortage clad in NDP orange as well as Notley and her cabinet members were sworn in one by one in the sunlight by Chief Justice Catherine Fraser on the steps of the building.
Premier Notley wasn't the only person "flabbergasted" by the size of the crowd. But she did have access to the microphone, telling them, "I'm humbled, truly humbled." The most common remark among spectators: "I never thought I'd live to see this day."
Even if we assume that a couple of thousand were there just to dip their feet in the reflecting pond or happened to wander over to see what all the commotion was about or get some of the promised free ice cream, that's a pretty good turnout for what was essentially a stiffly formal procedural matter of state involving principally the swearing of long oaths to maintain cabinet secrecy.
It was a change from recent swearings-in by Progressive Conservative governments, most of which took place safely inside the walls of the Legislature Building, well away from the danger of sunlight or protest -- not unlike the policies the principals of those proceedings had gathered to brew up.
Indeed, with additional symbolism, Notley had the front doors of the Legislature -- locked since the Parliament Hill shooting on Oct. 22 last year -- flung open to the public, although with a discreet security check inside, not to mention some much needed fresh air.
The only recent outdoor exception to the PC rule that I can recall was the swearing-in ceremony for Ed Stelmach, Alberta's unlucky Premier No. 13 and probably the best of the PC premiers, if not the most successful, since Peter Lougheed founded the dynasty that Notley formally brought to an end yesterday.
Stelmach's first moment as premier, perhaps typically, was in mid-December and the temperature felt bitterly cold, even if the Ukrainian choir was nice. Yesterday, as fit the mellow mood and the mellow weather, music was provided by a folkie band called 100 Mile House.
It's a sign of how bad the recent run of PC premiers has been since Stelmach stepped aside just three years and seven months ago that Notley is Alberta Premier No. 17!
While there were no real shocks at the names and faces in Notley's new cabinet, though some surprises at the portfolios they were handed.
Notley is premier, of course, and minister of intergovernmental affairs. The other 11:
- Deron Bilous Minister of Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta
- Oneil Carlier, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry
- Joe Ceci, President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance
- David Eggen, Minister of Education, Culture and Tourism
- Kathleen Ganley, Minister of Justice, Solicitor General and Aboriginal Affairs
- Sarah Hoffman, Minister of Health and Seniors
- Brian Mason, Government House Leader, Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation
- Margaret McCuaig-Boyd, Minister of Energy
- Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment, Sustainable Resource Development, Parks and Status of Women
- Ifran Sabir, Minister of Human Services
- Lori Sigurdson, Minister of Innovation, Advanced Education, Jobs, Skills and Labour
All four NDP veterans of the last Legislature are in the cabinet. The average age is a couple of years under 50, depending on when Carlier was born, and the gender balance is 50/50. For this list, their portfolio titles were abbreviated by me.
But while Notley's tiny cabinet is a good strategic move now, to get the government rolling quickly and take time to train some new MLAs with ministerial potential, it is said here it is going to have to grow a little within the next couple of years to prevent burn-out from the heavy responsibilities now assigned.
When that happens, of course, the opposition members and media commentators who complained the cabinet was too small will then complain it's gown too big, but I guess you could argue that goes with the ample territory.
Near the end of her remarks, Notley observed: "Young and old, gay and straight, and more women than ever before … My friends, it is springtime in Alberta and a fresh wind is blowing."
That assessment seems about right!
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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