Brian Topp NDP leadership candidate

Off the Topp: Notley shuffles her senior staff

As the fall Legislative session ends and MLAs prepare to return home to their constituencies for the holiday season, Premier Rachel Notley announced big changes in the senior ranks of her political office.

John Heaney

John Heaney

Gone is Brian Topp, the veteran political operative who became Ms. Notley’s Chief of Staff after the NDP formed government in 2015. He is reportedly becoming a fellow with the Ottawa-based Public Policy Forum.

Mr. Topp is replaced by John Heaney, a former British Columbia NDP political operative who served as Chief of Staff to John Horgan until moving east to Alberta last year. He was filling the role as Alberta’s policy czar as Deputy Minister of the Policy Coordination Office.

The McDougall Centre in Calgary

The McDougall Centre in Calgary

Former federal NDP campaign manager Anne McGrath, who was hired as Ms. Notley’s Principal Secretary after the 2015 federal election, moves south to run the Premier’s Calgary office at the McDougall Centre.

Ms. McGrath, who lived in the city and studied at the University of Calgary, replaces former alderman and MLA Bob Hawkesworth as Executive Director. It is hard to interpret this move as anything but a demotion. But the addition of Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen to the government caucus, placing a campaign manager in the role could signal that the NDP are beginning to realize the need to shore up support in Alberta’s largest city before the next election.

Anne McGrath NDP

Anne McGrath

Back in Edmonton, Ms. McGrath will be replaced by ministerial chief of staff and former BC NDP advisor Jim Rutkowski, who rounds up the group of recently imported BC NDP operatives now filling the two most powerful political jobs in Alberta.

Alberta’s NDP government has pursued an aggressive policy and legislative agenda since defeating the 44-year old Progressive Conservative regime in May 2015. And while the economic recession caused by the decline in the international price of oil has created significant challenges, it has not slowed down the political agenda.

The recent approval of two oil pipelines suggests the NDP government flagship Climate Leadership Plan is already achieving political results for the province but the political battle over the carbon tax and phase of dirty coal fired power plants will continue into 2017.

It is too soon to tell what today’s staff changes will mean or how they will impact how the NDP government operates. The NDP focused on introducing policy and legislative changes during its first year in office, and now the government will need to shift political gears as it moves to implement its ambitious Alberta-changing policy goals.

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