A screenshot of Alberta Premier Danielle Smith during her speech to the United Conservative Party annual general meeting in Edmonton Saturday.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith during her speech to the United Conservative Party annual general meeting in Edmonton Saturday. Credit: United Conservative Party Credit: United Conservative Party

Cometh the hour, cometh the mandate letter. Premier Danielle Smith, having won a seat in the Legislature Tuesday night, immediately turned to the vital task of looking busy and grownup. 

This will be hard to do given many of the nutty things she’s said up to now, for example suggesting she could come up with a plan to tear Alberta Health Services apart in 90 days, not to mention the fact that a considerable portion of her most loyal supporters expect her to keep saying that stuff. 

Nevertheless, Wednesday she published six anodyne and performative mandate letters to her ministers of utilities, children’s services, culture, education, municipal affairs, and seniors and social services, an action clearly intended to give the impression that adults are in charge, even if we still really, really hate Ottawa. 

One hates to be an old cynic, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that each of these ministers has a mandate that extends well beyond the details of the formal mandate they have been given. After all, as University of Calgary political science professor Lisa Young wrote yesterday, “there isn’t even a whiff of extremism to be found.”

Consider the mandate give to Education Minister Adrianna LaGrange, for example, whose term as Jason Kenney’s minister of education was roiled with the bizarre 1950s grade school curriculum cooked up by some of the previous premier’s autodidactic pedagogical pals.

LaGrange’s new mandate is mostly cheerfully harmless – “laser focus on job creation and strengthening Alberta’s economy,” yadda-yadda … (One wonders if Smith is focusing the same laser for that purpose that Kenney used to wield so ineffectively? It’s presumably gathering dust nowadays somewhere in the basement of the Legislature Building.) 

But as to what the heck the government proposes to do about that wretched and justifiably controversial curriculum? Nary a word. 

I suppose that means they’re sticking with it – after all, Smith’s private and charter school allies would be furious if she didn’t – but would be just as happy if the rest of us didn’t notice. Note that LaGrange’s marching orders do include continuing to support “parental choice” in education. 

Seniors and Social Service’s Minister Jeremy Nixon’s letter instructs him to be sure that income supports such as Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) and the seniors’ benefit are “adjusted for inflation on a go-forward basis.”

This is not a bad thing, although for some reason the letter forgets to mention that it was the UCP Government led by Smith’s predecessor that cut and de-indexed the same supports.

One imagines that former and present Finance Minister Travis Toews, the old austerity buff who is yet to receive his mandate letter, must have quietly ground his teeth to see that instruction in print. 

Utilities Minister Matt Jones (Matt Who?) is instructed to “Address the cost of utility payments for Albertans by ensuring regulated rates for electricity and natural gas are formulated to best serve Albertans.” (Regulation? Red tape? Surely not!)

No one mentioned that the UCP “promised utility relief last winter” and nothing much came of it. 

No one, that is, except Kathleen Ganley, the NDP’s energy critic, who noted, “After taking several months to get any support out the door, Albertans still don’t qualify for the natural gas rebate and hundreds of thousands of Albertans never received an electricity rebate due to the poorly designed program.”

Readers will get the picture. And if they don’t, they will have more opportunities to think about it, since Smith has 21 more letters to write. Presumably they will be released in small batches over the next few days in hopes of dominating the news cycle each day. 

The first six letters were accompanied by an upbeat news release reassuring Albertans that all will be well under Smith’s steady hand, and, in case that doesn’t persuade anyone, a downbeat release blaming Ottawa for anything bad that happens. 

Jason Kenney’s new look

There seems to be an emerging social custom that political leaders driven from power and exiled to a dreary circuit of lectures, think tanks, and corporate boards demonstrate that they have risen above such petty concerns by ceasing to shave. 

Jason Kenney may have been flirting with this for a while, even while still premier, occasionally appearing on the government’s Alberta Newsroom Flickr page of royalty-free photographs if not fully bearded, at least unfashionably unshaven. 

So it was probably only a matter of time before photos of Mr. Kenney sporting a full beard emerged, as they now have. It is not yet clear if Mr. Kenney will adopt a diet of honey and wild locusts, as befits a prophet wandering alone in the wilderness, to go with his grizzled and Lula-like whiskers.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...