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Lawyer, businessman and longtime Tory Douglas Goss steps aside as U of A board chair

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Douglas Goss

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Lawyer, businessman and longtime Tory supporter Douglas Goss announced yesterday he would resign as chair of the University of Alberta board of governors at the end of next month.

Despite making an effort to strike a positive tone in his resignation letter, Goss really had little choice after shooting himself in both feet, figuratively speaking, hours before the election of Premier Rachel Notley's New Democratic Party majority on May 5.

Alert readers will recall how Goss and four other prominent Edmonton-area businessmen called a news conference on May 1 in the Jasper Avenue boardroom of Melcor Developments to beg Albertans not to do anything so stupid as electing an "amateur" NDP government. They suggested instead that smart Albertans would stick with the "solid" track record of Progressive Conservative premier Jim Prentice.

Ah well, give the five of them their due. They had the courage of their convictions and they sensed what was going to happen on May 5 a darn sight more clearly than Prentice himself and his expensive strategic brain trust at Toronto-based Navigator Ltd. -- polling, GroupThink ™ and all.

In the event, Alberta voters chose not to take the advice of the Melcor Five -- which besides Goss included Melcor Developments Chair Tim Melton, Clark Builders CEO Paul Verhesen, Keller Construction CEO John Cameron and NPO Zero CEO Ashif Mawji, each with well-established connections to the PCs. For his part, Goss had served as a past PC campaign co-chair and party vice-president as well as donating significant sums to the Tory cause.

Despite the storm of controversy stirred up on social media by the tone-deaf quintet -- which in the event was extremely helpful to the NDP -- the U of A Board of Governors voted on May 8 to keep Goss around as chair. Obviously, however, something happened between then and now.

Goss's letter, first revealed yesterday on Twitter by blogger Dave Cournoyer and then picked up by the media, indicated he felt be could retire now that a new university president was on the job. Former University of Victoria president David Turpin began his term as the university’s 13th president on July 1

"My attention, in recent weeks, has been focused on how I can best contribute as a volunteer going forward, and specifically on the upcoming capital campaign," Goss wrote.

However, even though he admitted at the time that in retrospect it might have been wiser to keep his own counsel about whom Albertans should support, by calling the news conference to command the orange tide to turn back, and insulting the New Democratic Party and its supporters in the process, Goss seriously compromised his ability to act in the interests of the U of A.

Meantime, if the outgoing board chair happened to have anything to do with the movement of former U of A provost Carl Amrhein over to Alberta Health Services as "official administrator," whence he was able to move on to become deputy minister of health last month, perhaps Goss can be said just the same to have made his mark on the NDP government.

When the job of U of A president didn’t come Amrhein's way as many in the university community had expected, the road was opened by then-premier Prentice for the former provost to temporarily become the top dog at AHS, essentially the massive agency's one-man board.

After seven months in that temporary post he could have been painlessly sent back to the U of A. Instead, Amrhein was invited to move upward to the key deputy minister job, one of a raft of similar appointments including several senior civil servants who had been closely associated with the PC government announced the day before the Canada Day holiday.

The move by the Notley Government mystified and disappointed many NDP supporters who had hoped for a broader change among the ranks of Alberta's senior civil servants that would put in place a cadre of top officials who could be counted on to support the government and who would believe in its promised policies.

The NDP will have many additional chances to make appointments more satisfactory  to their supporters and perhaps better for their future in the weeks and months ahead -- including, presumably, the replacement for Goss on the U of A board.

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

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