Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage, temporarily also assigned to the justice portfolio. Credit: David Climenhaga

While Kaycee Madu cools his jets in the political penalty box for phoning Edmonton’s police chief about a traffic ticket, it’s worth noting that acting justice minister Sonya Savage has not exactly covered herself in glory during her two and a half years as energy minister.

Touted as a high-profile oilpatch insider when Premier Jason Kenney elevated her to the important portfolio after the United Conservative Party’s 2019 election victory, Savage has overseen more political disasters during her short watch than many politicians do in a long career. 

In her defence, it’s quite possible none of the recent major embarrassments associated with the energy portfolio were her doing. They sound like things Kenney dreamed up himself. 

Still, if so, surely she had an obligation to try to stop him, or at least mitigate the damage. The suspicion that her role is more of that of a cheerleader and enabler is unavoidable. 

Consider:

  • The Alberta Energy War Room, which from its stolen logos to its War On Bigfoot to its risible attack on the New York Times, has used its multi-million-dollar budget to deliver a regular stream of embarrassments and minor scandals. But Savage, who is also a director of the “private” company, stands determinedly by the ill-starred project.
  • Alberta’s oft-delayed “Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns,” which started out as an exercise to bully and intimidate foes of oilsands expansion and ended up as a bad joke that delivered nothing much but the possibility of a defamation suit against Kenney, also unfolded during Savage’s tenure in cabinet.
  • The plan to allow open-pit coal mining on the sensitive Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains, which turned out to be so unpopular it’s driven hundreds of die-hard UCP supporters from Southern Alberta away from the governing party, if not quite into the arms of the Opposition NDP. Savage still appears to be trying to figure out how to make that dodo bird fly.
  • The mother of all UCP scandals, the notorious gift of $1.3 billion to TC Energy Corp. for, well … nothing. The huge subsidy to make it worth TC’s time to build the already floundering Keystone KX Pipeline project has been described as a bad bet that Donald Trump would win the 2020 U.S. presidential election. When Democrat Joe Biden won, literally his first act in office was to pull the plug on KXL. Kenney may have rolled the dice, but Savage deserves some of the credit. 

Against such massive policy failures, Savage’s mid-pandemic trip to her Okanagan vacation home during the 2021 winter holiday barely registers on the political Richter scale. 

Nevertheless, since she is MLA for Calgary-North West, not Calgary-Kelowna, it did seem odd she chose the Christmas break for “essential maintenance” on her house. Well, maybe she had the only key and she needed to let the plumber in.

With her duties in the Energy Ministry, she’s not really available to attend to her newest responsibility. Guiding the Justice Department will have to be left in the hands of senior civil servants — not necessarily a bad thing.

But this goes to the political problem created for Premier Kenney by the continuing Madu Snafu, which seems to get worse by the day.

The talent pool of lawyers with senior cabinet potential in the UCP caucus is so shallow it could be quite difficult for the premier to find a suitable replacement.

Including Savage and Madu, the UCP Caucus has only eight lawyers, a legal degree generally being considered a prerequisite for a justice minister.

Kenney can hardly deploy Tyler Shandro, having just rescued him from the disaster he oversaw at Alberta Health by moving him to the labour ministry. Nor can he promote Doug Schweitzer, now the minister of jobs, economy and innovation, having demoted him from the Justice portfolio back in August 2020.

Health Minister Jason Copping, who switched jobs with Shandro in September, is one of the few qualified cabinet members who could obviously do the job. But he’s not expected to seek re-election in the next general election.

None of the three lawyers on the UCP backbenches — Mickey Amery, Nicholas Milliken and Jason Stephan — seem like cabinet material. That’s especially true of the chronically oppositional Stephan, a vociferous opponent of COVID-19 mitigation measures.

So while calls for Madu to be dumped are nearly, if not completely, universal, you can almost see why Kenney might hesitate to fire him — even if he wasn’t the only Conservative elected in Edmonton, an otherwise unbroken sea of NDP orange. 

Police union head joins attacks on Madu

Yesterday afternoon, the president of the Edmonton police union angrily took to Twitter to respond to Madu’s statement he called Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee because “I wanted to ensure that I was not being unlawfully surveilled.”

Tweeted Staff Sergeant Michael Elliott of the Edmonton Police Association: “I personally know the member who issued the ticket & to make an erroneous assumption he was surveilling you is shameful & preposterous! There is a complaint process if you had a legit issue. Calling chief directly is over the line & you do know better as the Minister.”

U of L faculty expected to hold strike vote on Feb. 1

Faculty members at the University of Lethbridge are expected to hold a strike vote on Feb. 1.

Members of the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association received a letter Monday from the union telling them formal mediation had ended that day with the sides too far apart for the mediator to make a recommendation.

“This opens the door to a strike vote as the next tool that may be required to reach a fair settlement,” the letter said. The association plans several Zoom meetings with members to discuss the state of negotiations.

Update on journalistic processes and sources

I have been credibly informed that the copy of Madu’s distracted driving ticket obtained by the CBC came to the network’s attention as a result of a news tip, not a leak. This is a nice distinction, but an important one to journalists. That is, once reporters were tipped off to the existence of the ticket, they went to their sources and obtained a copy.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

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...