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NDP appoints former Liberal strategist Corey Hogan to head Alberta Public Affairs Bureau

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Corey Hogan

I'm not sure why the Notley government has given us so little information about Corey Hogan, whose appointment to the important job of managing director of the Alberta Public Affairs Bureau was so tersely announced Tuesday.

Based on the government's news release, published late in the afternoon on Tuesday, available facts were quite thin on the ground -- the release included two sentences and 45 words. That's if you don't count the uninformative seven-word headline: "Government makes changes at senior official level."

If nothing else, this suggests one of the first things on Hogan's agenda should be to ensure communications staff employed by the government of Alberta are taught how to write a proper press release.

All the government had to say about Hogan's qualifications before he holds what is probably the most important communications job in the province of Alberta, is that he "has more than a decade of experience in communications, advertising and engagement. Most recently he served as the chief strategy officer at Northweather, a digital communications consultancy based in Calgary."

Hogan replaces Mark Wells, the former Alberta Union of Provincial Employees communications manager who served in the position for just a year. Wells, who has a young family and has been successfully pursuing a law degree on a part-time basis for several years, left to move forward with his legal career.

If you dig a little deeper, you will find Hogan has been chief strategy officer of his own company for the past 10 months, was employed by Hill and Knowlton Strategies for about three and a half years before that and was a consultant for unnamed clients for about six years. He also held various important positions with the Liberal parties of Canada and Alberta between 2006 and 2012, including executive director of the provincial party.

In the next few days, there are likely to be many who argue this resumé is too thin for a senior position of such importance, which has traditionally been filled by communications veterans with many years of experience. Others will say Hogan is extremely bright, is savvy about social media in a way few other strategists are and will likely play a key role in future campaign teams.

Author of Daveberta.ca, Dave Cournoyer described Hogan Tuesday night as "a smart political operator (who) comes from outside the traditional NDP establishment and has experience in Alberta politics."

So this appointment may be a stroke of real genius by Premier Rachel Notley's political advisors -- or not.

Hogan played an instrumental role in the idea of throwing open the right to vote in the Alberta Liberal party's September 2011 leadership election to all Albertans, and told me last night that he "then helped push it federally as well."

That leadership vote resulted in the election of the erratic former Conservative MLA Raj Sherman as Liberal leader, an event that is generally considered to have been a disaster for the party. Hogan, who left the party immediately after Sherman's elevation, said last night "I had more hope for it but I shouldn't have pushed it knowing there weren't champions to carry it on after I left… The stalwarts associated it with Raj's victory and Raj never had a team.”

Lately, as a political commentator for CBC Calgary and also a participant with Stephen Carter and Zain Velji on The Strategists podcast, Hogan has become enthusiastic enough about the Notley government’s policies to be teased by his co-commentators for being "the orange apologist."

His appointment likely spells the end of both the CBC broadcasts and the podcast. 

The CBC pushed out Carter soon after he told the Calgary Herald in mid-September he expected to manage the still-unofficial campaign of Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Sandra Jansen.

"They didn't want to have that perception of conflict," Carter told me last weekend, noting that he doesn't expect to be back after his year-long run on the CBC. If he wins, he won't be coming back because he'll have other things to do, he explained. If he doesn't, he said, he expects his reputation as a winner to suffer enough his appeal as a commentator will be reduced.

Hogan declined to say if the size of the Public Affairs Bureau remains at the 40 or so staffers to which it was reduced in December 2014, during the short premiership of former PC leader Jim Prentice.

Before that, with more than 200 staffers and a budget in excess of $23 million, the Public Affairs Bureau was frequently criticized as too big, too centralized and too political for a department that is technically part of the Alberta Public Service.

Martin Kennedy, the man who then led the Public Affairs Bureau under the peculiar title of deputy chief, described those changes as an adoption of the decentralized departmental communications model -- used at the time by Ottawa and the Ontario provincial government, in which communications directors and their staffs report to individual departments' deputy ministers.

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

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