As the Opposition Caucuses and Parties reorganize following electoral changes caused as a results of the April 23 election, there will be a number of staff and role changes in Assembly. The new Assembly will convene for the first time to elect a new Speaker on May 23, 2012 and listen to the Speech from the Throne on May 24, 2012.
As the result of the retirement of long-time Progressive Conservative MLA Ken Kowalski, the Speaker’s Office is vacant for the first time since 1997. Vying to become the new Assembly Speaker are former cabinet minister and Edmonton-Mill Creek PC MLA Gene Zwozdesky, Deputy Speaker and Calgary-Fort PC MLA Wayne Cao, former cabinet minister and Red Deer-North PC MLA Mary Anne Jablonski, and long-time Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman. (Both Mr. Cao and Ms. Jablonski have exited the race).
This new Speaker will be selected by sitting MLA’s through a secret ballot and because this election is traditionally not a whipped vote, it can sometimes lead to interesting and unexpected results. When Mr. Kowalski was selected as Speaker in 1997, many political observers believed it was the Liberal and NDP MLA’s who helped him defeat Premier Ralph Klein‘s preferred choice, then-Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg.
Opposition Staff Housekeeping
For the first time in 19 years, the Liberal Opposition Caucus will not be the Official Opposition in the Assembly. The Liberal Caucus, led by Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman, will undergo staff and research budget downsizing due to the number of Liberal MLAs shrinking from 8 to 5. The Liberal Caucus recently released its MLA critic and committee assignments.
A recent listing on the Government of Alberta website shows that Dr. Sherman’s long-time adviser Jonathan Huckabay will return to his role as Chief of Staff of the Liberal Caucus Office. Mr. Huckabay entered that role earlier this year when former MLA Rick Miller resigned to focus on his election campaign in Edmonton-Rutherford. When the election was called, Mr. Huckabay stood as a Liberal candidate in Edmonton-Manning, where he placed fourth with just over 1,000 votes.
Recently the party’s candidate in Cypress-Medicine Hat, Jon Mastel is Dr. Sherman’s new Executive Assistant.
Senior Communications Advisor Earl J Woods announced in a blog post last week that he would be leaving the Liberal Caucus, where he has worked for six and a half years (if you are looking to hire a great writer, contact Mr. Woods).
In the NDP Opposition Caucus, which doubled in size from 2 to 4 MLAs, Communications Officer Richard Liebrecht announced on Twitter last week that he was moving on from his role in the Legislature Annex. A former Reporter for Sun Media and the Hinton Parklander, Mr. Liebrecht started his job with the NDP in November 2010. He also previously worked for the Liberal Party of Canada.
The NDP are also hiring a number of constituency staff positions.
While the Wildrose Party‘s new role as Official Opposition will mean additional staff and research funding, a party position was made vacant following the election of Shayne Saskiw in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, the Wildrose Party is hiring a new Executive Director.
New Public Accounts Committee Chairperson
For the first time since 2001, someone other than Hugh MacDonald will serve as chair of the important Public Accounts Committee, which has ability to scrutinize government spending. Mr. MacDonald served as the MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar from 1997 until the recent election when he chose to retire from the Assembly. While he sometimes appeared to be relentlessly focused on discovering scandal in the Tory government, Mr. MacDonald was easily one of the hardest working MLA’s under the Dome.
The role of Public Accounts Committee Chair traditionally falls to a MLA representing the Official Opposition Caucus, meaning that one of the 17 Wildrose Party MLA’s will fill this role when the new Assembly convenes next week. Second-term Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson, who will also serve as Official Opposition Finance Critic, could be a powerful force in this important role. Calgary-Fish Creek Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth served as the Wildrose representative on the committee before the election.