Andrew Leach joins Dave Cournoyer on the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the state of Alberta’s economy, economic diversification and how the politics of oil and pipelines are developing in 2020. He also shares some thoughts and reflections on climate change policy from his time as chair of Alberta’s Climate Change Advisory Panel in 2015.
Leach is a Canadian energy and environmental economist and an Associate Professor at the University of Alberta. You can follow him on Twitter and read more about him on his Wikipedia page.
This episode sounds great because of the skills and technical expertise of our hard-working producer, Adam Rozenhart.
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This week on the Daveberta Podcast, guest hosts Erika Barootes, Janis Irwin and Natasha Soles chat with our producer Adam Rozenhart about their experiences in provincial politics and where they see Alberta politics moving in the near future. They also answer some questions you submitted to us.
Erika Barootes is the the president of the United Conservative Party of Alberta, an athlete, and in her day job, a senior advisor of corporate communications at EPCOR.
Janis Irwin the Director of Stakeholder Relations in the Office of the Premier, and she’s also declared that she’ll be running for the Alberta NDP nomination in Edmonton’s Highlands-Norwood electoral district, which has been held by Brian Mason since the year 2000.
Natasha Soles is the former Director of Communications and Legislative affairs for the Alberta Party Caucus. She’s also a Senior Executive Associate at an outstanding Edmonton not-for-profit called Homeward Trust.
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Today’s announcement by the TransCanada Corporation that it would no longer pursue the construction of the Energy East Pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta to Saint John, New Brunswick triggered a storm of statements, accusations and criticisms from politicians trying to drive their political narratives.
While the reasons for the TransCanada Corporation withdrawing its plans are likely influenced more by economics than by politics, there will certainly be political implications for the politicians – like Premier Rachel Notley – who have tethered their governing agenda to the approval of pipeline projects.
So, politics being politics, here is a quick look at who is blaming who for the demise of the Energy East Pipeline:
The TransCanada Corporation blames existing and likely future delays caused by the National Energy Board regulatory process, associated costs and challenging “issues and obstacles” facing the project.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley blames “a broad range of factors that any responsible business must consider.”
New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant doesn’t blame the TransCanada Corporation, but recognizes “recent changes to world market conditions and the price of oil have negatively impacted the viability of the project.”
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall blames Justin Trudeau, the federal government, and Montreal mayor Denis Coderre.
Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr blames the decision to cancel the pipeline project as a business decision.
Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer blames Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Alberta Liberal MPs Randy Boissonnault, Amarjeet Sohi and Kent Hehr blame “current market challenges related to world market conditions and lower commodity prices.
Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel blames “Liberal ideological opposition to the wealth and prosperity of western Canada, to the detriment of the nation as a whole.”
United Conservative Party interim leader Nathan Cooper blames the Alberta NDP.
UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean blames Rachel Notley, Justin Trudeau and Denis Coderre.
UCP leadership candidate Jason Kenney blames the Alberta NDP carbon-tax and social license, and the Trudeau Liberals. He later also blames Denis Coderre.
The petition sponsored by Ms. Stubbs collected 34,537 signatures, compared to 16,822 signatures for Mr. Thériault’s petition. The breakdown of which provinces the signatures came from are interesting, and demonstrate an increasingly obvious geo-political divide in the national oil pipeline debate. This is especially evident by the number of signatures each petition collected from Alberta and Quebec. Alberta signatures represent more than half of those collected for Ms. Stubbs’ petition while Quebec signatures represent 96 percent of those collected for Thériault’s petition.
Much of Canada’s economy comes from oil and gas exploration, extraction, transport, upgrading, refining and processing;
Hundreds of thousands of Canadians work directly in the oil and gas sector;
100,000 oil and gas workers are now unemployed;
Millions more benefit from the jobs and profits created by oil and gas development;
Canadian governments collect $17 billion dollars annually from the oil and gas industry which is used to fund essential government programs and services;
Canada is a world leader in the responsible development of its oil and gas resources;
Pipelines are the safest mode of transportation for oil, gas and fluids; and
A lack of pipelines to new markets means Canadian producers often receive far less than market rates for their oil.
We, the undersigned, citizens of Canada, call upon the Government of Canada to vocally defend the oil and gas industry and the use of pipelines, and to make the building of oil, gas and diluted bitumen pipelines across Canada, to tidewater, and into the United States, a national priority.
The Alberta-based company TransCanada would like to build a pipeline that would cross Quebec from west to east to transport more than 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day, or 121,500 litres per minute, and that would go through more than 80 distinct watersheds, 600 waterways and various agricultural areas;
A study carried out by the École polytechnique de Montréal, commissioned by the Government of Quebec and published in late December 2015, revealed: that the pipeline’s route poses a serious landslide risk for various waterways, including around 30 rivers and the St. Lawrence River and its estuary; that the soil along the shoreline of the St. Lawrence River is too unstable to support a pipeline; that there is no such thing as zero risk, and the incidents involving pipeline crossings are usually found after many years of use; and that the only way to prevent all environmental repercussions is to not cross waterways;
Quebec would be assuming all environmental risks, and the cost is not worth the risk; and
Quebeckers should decide what happens within Quebec’s borders.
We, the undersigned citizens of Quebec, call upon the Government of Canada to: respect the wishes of Quebeckers and the National Assembly of Quebec; refrain from turning Quebec into an oilsands superhighway; respect Quebec’s environmental jurisdiction; and put an end to TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline.
It might be one of the most bizarre political stories of 2016.
Mr. Fildebrandt’s “suspension” and quick return to the Official Opposition Wildrose Caucus is being spun by party strategists as a reaction to a social media faux-pas but it is widely interpreted by political watchers as an internal power play to neutralize a potential challenger to Mr. Jean’s leadership of the party.
Wildrose Caucus House leader Nathan Cooper held a press conference defending his party’s decision to criticize Ms. Wynne and suggested the Wildrose MLAs might not have known she was actually in the Assembly gallery at the time. The move was almost universally seen as being in bad taste and led Postmedia columnist Graham Thomson to refer to the Wildrose as “Team Petulant.”
A screen shot of a Facebook message began circulating on social media early Friday evening showing a comment from a supporter on Mr. Fildebrandt’s Facebook page referring to Ms. Wynne as “Mr. Wynne or whatever the hell she identifies as” – an apparent reference to the fact Ms. Wynne is openly gay. The author of the comment added that he was “proud to have you as my MLA,” and Mr. Fildebrandt initially responded, “Proud to have constituents like you!” Mr. Fildebrandt quickly apologized online, responding that he did not fully read the comment and that it was totally inappropriate.
Mr. Jean issued a public statement around 11:30 p.m. announcing the suspension of Mr. Fildebrandt from the Wildrose Caucus because of the comments he made on social media: ‘This evening, Mr. Fildebrandt made an unacceptable comment on social media that does not represent the values of the Wildrose Caucus.’ This was seen a very serious and unexpected move by Mr. Jean, who was in Vancouver attending the Conservative Party of Canada national convention at the time.
Saturday, May 28, 2016
Mr. Jean faced criticism from a massive mob of party supporters online who were opposed to the suspension.
Ms. Wynne accepted Mr. Fildebrandt’s apology for the Facebook comment. “But, you know, I think it was an interesting confluence of things. There’s a woman premier in Alberta, I’m there as a woman, we’re talking about climate change. And I think the attack, the viciousness of the attack, had a particular quality to it. So, I will just say we need to pay attention to that,” Ms. Wynne told the Canadian Press.
CBC journalist Kim Trynacity reported that Legislative Assembly Speaker Bob Wanner‘s office had never received official notice informing them that Mr. Fildebrandt was suspended, meaning he had remained a Wildrose MLA even though Mr. Jean’s statement claimed he was suspended.
As of this afternoon, the Speaker's office in the #ableg had not received notice that @Dfildebrandt was suspended from the #WRP .
Mr. Jean held a press conference announcing that Mr. Fildebrandt could return to the Wildrose Caucus if he took actions to behave himself on social media and met a list of secret conditions.
The five secret conditions were not secret for long. They were first reported on daveberta.ca and soon after by Postmedia. The conditions were: 1) He is suspended from the Wildrose Official Opposition Caucus until the end of the current Legislative Session. 2) He will be on probation until September 1, 2016. 3) He has to commit to personal improvement and personal development. 4) He would be prohibited from doing any media interviews except with local media in his Strathmore-Brooks constituency. 5) He will not be reappointed as Finance critic when he returns to the Wildrose Caucus.
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
The Wildrose Caucus released a statement announcing Mr. Fildebrandt had been fully reinstated in the Official Opposition and had retained his post as Finance critic. The five secret conditions given to Mr. Fildebrandt on May 30 appeared to had been dropped and the only condition of his return was that he hire a staffer to manage his social media accounts. The Wildrose statement claimed five secret conditions reported in media were “not accurate” but sources close to Mr. Fildebrandt confirm the five secret conditions did indeed exist.
Speaking in Calgary, Ms. Notley said “with respect to the waffling back and forth in terms of whether Mr. Fildebrandt is in or out, or on side, or whatever it is today, I think we see a party that’s in a bit of disarray.”
A close advisor of Mr. Fildebrandt’s, Jordan Katz, confirmed to Postmedia columnist Rick Bell that the secret conditions did exist and he questioned whether a quote endorsing Mr. Jean’s leadership in the Wildrose statement issued on May 31 was actually approved by Mr. Fildebrandt.
Thursday, June 2, 2016
Mr. Fildebrandt returns to the Legislative Assembly for the first time since his “suspension” on Friday, May 27. “There’s always going to be hurt feelings. I’m sitting down with people, talking one on one, face to face. And I think at the end of the day, we’re all going to come out of this stronger as a caucus and ready to go forward,” Mr. Fildebrandt told the CBC.
“A screen shot of a Facebook message posted earlier Friday evening by Mr. Fildebrandt and shows the message referred to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne as “Mr. Wynne or whatever the hell she identifies as” – an apparent reference to the fact Ms. Wynne is openly gay. The author of the comment adds to Mr. Fildebrandt, “proud to have you as my MLA,” and Mr. Fildebrandt initially responded, “Proud to have constituents like you!”
Ms. Wynne accepted Mr. Fildebrandt’s apology, but wondered whether a man would have faced the same kind of vicious attack.
Mr. Fildebrandt made headlines last week after he took to the floor of the Assembly to attack Ms. Wynne’s record as premier as she sat as a guest in the Speaker’s Gallery in the Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. The move was almost universally seen as being in bad taste and led Postmedia columnist Graham Thomson to refer to the Wildrose as “Team Petulant.”
Ms. Wynne was in Edmonton to meet with Premier Rachel Notley to discuss climate change and her potential support for the TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East Pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick. As unabashed advocates for oil pipelines in all directions, the timing of the Wildrose critic’s hyper-partisan rant was baffling.
The former Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesperson fit naturally into his role as the Wildrose Party’s chief attack dog but his anticssometimes attracted more attention than his party’s actual message.
As the Official Opposition Finance critic and chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Mr. Fildebrandt was one of the most high profile opposition MLAs and the New Democratic Party government’s most uncompromising and unrelenting critic. He will now sit as an Independent MLA.
Three years ago this week, Conservative Premier Alison Redford took to the airwaves to warn Albertans about the ominous “bitumen bubble.” Ms. Redford warned that a pipeline bottleneck and a dramatic drop in the price of oil would rob the provincial government of up to $6 billion in natural resource revenue.
Ms. Redford spent much of her two and a half years in office focusing on pipelines, as did her successor Jim Prentice during his short eight months in the Premier’s Office.
One of the jobs Mr. Prentice left when he decided to run for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party in 2014 was as liaison between the (now moribund) Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline and First Nations in northern British Columbia. Despite this experience, there was little evidence of pipeline advancement during his brief time as premier before the PCs were defeated in the May 2015 election.
As AlbertaPolitics.ca publisher David Climenhaga noted last week, “Premier Rachel Notley, after less than nine months in office, secured the tentative approval of the premier of Ontario and the enthusiastic endorsement of the prime minister of Canada, both members of a different political party than hers, for a pipeline to carry diluted bitumen from Alberta to New Brunswick for refining.”
What we are witnessing is unfamiliar: an NDP Premier advocating for this approval of a privately-owned, privately-operated pipeline that would ship oil from Alberta’s oil sands to a privately-owned and privately-operated refinery in New Brunswick. This is hardly characteristic of the radical marxist socialist extremist that Ms. Notley’s more fanatical critics claim she is.
This pipeline will not save the Alberta government from the revenue shortfall caused by the drop in the international price of oil, which is intensified due as a result of poor long-term planning during the previous 44 years of conservative governments. But it could narrow the price gap between West Texas Intermediate and Western Canadian Select and provide a new point of export for Canadian oil while also keeping refinery jobs in Canada rather than exporting jobs to refineries overseas.
Edmonton-Centre Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault reiterated his support for TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline last week. “Our government is committed to ensuring our natural resources have access to market. This process will include a credible environmental assessment process based on science, facts and evidence,” Mr. Boissonneault said in a statement.
Building a national consensus around climate change and the transportation and export of Canada’s oil will be helpful for future projects. It also gives Ms. Notley an opportunity to highlight her government’s climate change plan, which includes the phasing out of dirty coal fired power plants by 2030, a move that could significantly reduce Alberta’s carbon emissions.
While Wildrose opposition leader Brian Jeansquabbles with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre over the municipal politician’s opposition to the pipeline, it would appear that Ms. Notley’s quiet diplomacy might be showing results. These type of public spats distract from the reality that Mr. Jean supports TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline but would cheer if Ms. Notley’s bid fails.
If TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline is approved before the 2019 Alberta election, Ms. Notley will be able to make the claim that an NDP Premier was able to accomplish something her conservative predecessors could not: get a new pipeline built from the oil sands to an ocean port.
Having enjoyed the last week in the sunny Berkeley, California, it felt odd to turn on the car radio to hear the local disc jockeys discussing the tarsands and the merits of a pipeline that would pump unrefined bitumen from Canada to Texas. Being one of the most liberal areas in the U.S. – there were more than a few cars sporting “Bernie Sanders 2016″ bumper stickers – the discussion revolved around climate change and the environmental impact of the tarsands.
So, to the shock of no one who was paying attention, American President Barack Obama rejected the TransCanada corporation’s application for the cross-border permit needed to link the Keystone XL pipeline across the Canada-United States border.
It had become clear over the past few years that the project was unlikely to be approved by the American President. While counter-messages from the oil industry and environmental groups set the tone internationally, opposition to the pipeline by a handful of rural landowners in Nebraska is what ended up tying the pipeline project in the courts.
While the rejection of Keystone XL represents a victory for the projects opponents, it also represents a failure of Canadian foreign policy. For the past decade, the federal and provincial governments have been subsidizing TransCanada by spending significant amount of time and resources providing public funding for the pipeline through lobbying activities.
Elected officials like former Premier Alison Redford and her cabinet ministers were essentially publicly-funded lobbyists as they travelled to the U.S. dozens of times to advocate for Keystone XL and other oil industry projects. The decision by Jim Prentice to appoint well-connected Member of Parliament Rob Merrifield to the post of Alberta’s representative in Washington D.C. was supposed to give a boost to the government’s pipeline lobbying goals (he was later dismissed by Premier Rachel Notley). And the government led by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall was reported to have paid at least $3 million to lobbyists in Washington D.C.
The Conservative government of Stephen Harper, which was rejected by Canadians on Oct. 19, had arguably been the most pro-oil industry administration we have seen in decades. But instead of trying to build a national consensus in favour of projects like Keystone XL, the Conservative government demonized opposition to the pipelines in Canada. Opponents of Bill C-51 claimed that new spy laws passed by the former Conservative government with support from the Liberals could target Canadian citizens who oppose the expansion of oil pipelines.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared his support for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline in a speech to the Calgary Petroleum Club in October 2013 while also criticizing the Conservative government’s approach to lobbying for the pipeline in Washington D.C. “They have poked and prodded, annoyed and irritated the Obama administration at every turn. Largely, I suspect, because they don’t know how to work with people who don’t share their ideology,” Mr. Trudeau told Calgary’s oil elite.
While Mr. Trudeau has not publicly supported TransCanada’s other major pipeline project, the Energy East pipeline, new Natural Resources Minister Jim Carrfaces a challenging task of managing the interprovincial politics of pipelines. An Energy East pipeline that would would pump oil from Alberta to port terminals in New Brunswick or Quebec, keeping jobs in Canada, was endorsed by Ms. Notley and New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant last month.
The appointment of Ottawa MP Catherine McKenna as Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and former environment minister Stephane Dion as Minister of Foreign Affairs signals that the new federal government may not be as singularly focused on pipelines as the previous government. Mr. Dion is well versed in environmental policy after serving as environment minister from 2004 to 2006 and spearheading the Green Shift policy while leading the Liberal opposition in the 2008 election.
Ms. Notley and Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips will also be attending the conference in Paris.
The Pembina Institute may have spotted one of the biggest changes that the rejection of TransCanada’s Keystone XL signifies for Canada’s new foreign relations and energy strategies. In a statement released yesterday, Alberta director Simon Dyer said the “decision by President Obama reiterates that climate change is a key consideration for all energy infrastructure projects going forward.”
This week’s Council of the Federation meeting in St. John’s, Newfoundland marked Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s first appearance on the national stage since the NDP won a stunning victory in the May 5, 2015 provincial election. The new premier used the meeting to strike a more collaborative tone than her Conservative predecessors, who sometimes appeared more interested in chest-thumping than negotiating with their counterparts from other provinces.
The premiers signed on to a Canadian Energy Strategy, which could be an important first step in national cooperation but does not approve pipelines or targets to reduce carbon emissions. As long as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the federal Conservative government refuse to participate in these meetings, there is only so much that can be achieved.
What is clear is that previous strategies used by Alberta premiers to promote expansion of pipelines from Alberta’s oilsands has fallen flat. And with this week’s major oil pipeline leak in northern Alberta, critics and opponents of pipeline expansion to change their minds without assurances of stricter environmental regulations.
Compromise and negotiation should be part of politics in any democratic country. On any controversial projects, like cross-Canada pipeline expansion, it should be expected that local political realities in provinces and First Nations will slow, or block, attempts to force through industrial projects.
With a new government, Alberta has an opportunity to show our critics, through collaboration, negotiation and action, that strong leadership on economic and environmental issues are not mutually exclusive. That would be a refreshing change.
As he prepared to be sworn-in as the 16th Premier of Alberta at Government House today, Jim Prentice aimed to project the image of a leader who is in command and in control of the situation. And today’s tightly controlled cabinet shuffle achieved that goal. Unlike previous cabinet shuffles, the news around today’s appointments was tightly sealed, with no leaks to the media to spoil Mr. Prentice’s opening day as Premier.
But did Mr. Prentice really give Albertans the change he promised with this cabinet shuffle? There are a few new faces in top positions and two unelected cabinet ministers from outside the Legislative Assembly, but at least fifteen of the twenty cabinet ministers previously served in the cabinets of Premier Alison Redford or Dave Hancock.
Without appointing a larger group of unelected cabinet ministers, he had little choice but to draw on the current pool of PC MLAs. If Albertans really want to see change in their government, they will have to do what people in every other province do from time to time: elect a new party to form government.
Viewed as having the endorsement of Corporate Calgary’s Oil Executives, Mr. Prentice’s choices for cabinet sends a message that the construction and expansion of oil sands pipelines will remain a priority for the Progressive Conservatives.
As well as being Premier, Mr. Prentice takes on the role of Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs, both important roles when dealing with the construction of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline through northern British Columbia and the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline to New Brunswick.
The Northern Gateway Pipeline, which would pump raw bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to the port city of Kitimat, is facing stiff opposition in Alberta’s neighbouring province, especially from First Nations and environmental groups. Before entering the PC Party leadership race, Mr. Prentice worked for Enbridge as an envoy to B.C.’s First Nations communities.
Teresa Woo-Paw, the two-term MLA from north Calgary, is now the Associate Minister for Asia-Pacific Relations, an important position as the proposed pipeline would send Alberta’s raw bitumen to be refined and processed in Asia (likely in the People’s Republic of China).
How Mr. Prentice and Ms. Woo-Paw approach Alberta’s trade relations with Asian countries will also seal the fate of former cabinet minister Gary Mar, who was appointed as Alberta’s representative in Hong Kong after he was defeated in the 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership contest.
Expenses related to Mr. Mar’s patronage appointment have been harshly criticized by the opposition parties.
During Ms. Redford’s time as Premier, the Government of Alberta expanded trade operations in Asia, operating offices in China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. A new trade office was opened last year in Singapore and another will soon open in Mumbai, India.
Third-term Peace River MLA Frank Oberle is now Alberta’s Energy minister. It is unclear how Mr. Oberle will approach the role differently than his predecessors, but his connections to northern British Columbia may play a role in the government’s focus on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline. Mr. Oberle’s father, Frank Oberle Sr. was the Member of Parliament for Prince George-Peace River from 1972 to 1993, serving as Minister of Forestry under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
Serving as the defacto junior energy minister, Calgary MLA Kyle Fawcett was appointed as Environment & Sustainable Resource Development. Prone to embarrassing outbursts, Mr. “Leaky” Fawcett’s appointment suggests that Mr. Prentice might not be serious about tackling climate change and environmental issues linked to natural resource development.
The Auditor General reported in July that the Alberta Government has not been monitored its climate change targets and that its expensive carbon capture program is nowhere near meeting its targets for emission reductions. I sincerely hope that Mr. Fawcett sees his role as environment minister as more than a public relations activity for the government’s oil sands and pipeline expansion agenda.
On the environment and energy file, actions will speak louder than cabinet appointments.
Unelected Cabinet Ministers
Mr. Prentice handed the helm of two very important ministries to individuals who have never been elected to the Alberta Legislature. Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, 69, and former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Gordon Dirks, 67, were appointed to cabinet as Minister of Health and Minister of Education.
Mr. Mandel remains popular among many Edmontonians, and is expected to run in a by-election in Edmonton-Whitemud, the southwest Edmonton constituency made vacant following Mr. Hancock’s resignation last week. His tendency to show thin-skinwhen he does not get his way may prove challenging when having to compromise with his new cabinet and caucus colleagues, or his political opponents.
Mr. Dirks’ affiliations with a socially conservative evangelical church have raised the ire of his critics, who worry these views may impact his support of secular public education in Alberta. The appointment of the former Calgary Board of Education trustee and 1980s Saskatchewan politician was unexpected, to say the least.
It is suspected that Mr. Dirks will run for the PC Party nomination in the impending Calgary-Elbow by-election, triggered by Ms. Redford’s departure from political life. The nomination is also being contested by long-time PC Party activist Pat Walsh.
Who’s not welcome in Prentice’s cabinet?
Thomas Lukaszuk, Fred Horne, Doug Griffiths, Ken Hughes, Sandra Jansen are all names that many Albertans have become familiar with over the past few years. These former senior cabinet ministers will now occupy seats in the backbenches (and have their offices relocated from prime real estate in the Legislature Building to the aging and stuffy Legislature Annex).
Also demoted were former Finance minister Doug Horner, who will take on the role of “trade advisor” for the Premier and former International Affairs minister Cal Dallas, who will now serve as a “Legislative Secretary” for intergovernmental relations.
The resignation of Mr. Hancock last week took many political watchers by surprise. I am told by sources in the PC Party that Premier Hancock was informed by his party’s new leader that he would not be appointed to cabinet if he chose to remain as an MLA.
“After two weeks with me as the premier, there will be no doubts in anyone’s minds that this a time of renewal and a time of change. Put your seat belts on.” – Jim Prentice speaking with Roger Kingkade and Rob Breakenridge on September 9, 2014 on News Talk 770.
Wearing your seat belt while driving in a motor vehicle is always a good idea, but in this context, it may not cure the political whiplash endured by Albertans over the past two years.
The interview was a rough start to a mixed week for Jim Prentice, who is in the midst of transitioning into the Premier’s office and is expected to be sworn-in next week. He had positive first meetings with Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. And his rounds of media interviews early in the week were an introduction to many Albertans who are unfamiliar with Mr. Prentice and a departure from his predecessor, who became notorious for avoiding the legislature press gallery.
If his first week of transitioning into the Premier’s Office is going smoothly, the same might not be the case for his first week as leader of the 43-year governing Progressive Conservative Party. Mr. Prentice is already having to deal with allegations about PC MLA Sohail Quadri’s role in accessing voting PIN numbers in last week’s leadership vote.
Cabinet Shuffle next week
Much of the mainstream media coverage this week focused on speculation that Mr. Prentice could appoint individuals from outside the legislature to what is expected to be a smaller provincial cabinet.
As the rumours fly, three names have been widely speculated as prospective outside appointments – AIMco CEO Leo DeBeaver, Conservative MP James Rajotte and former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel. Mr. Mandel is currently serving on Mr. Prentice’s transition team and endorsed his candidacy in the PC leadership race earlier this summer.
It is expected that any cabinet ministers appointed from outside the Assembly would be required to run in by-elections alongside Mr. Prentice, who currently does not hold a seat in the Alberta Legislature.
As I wrote last week, appointing cabinet ministers from outside the Legislature is not entirely unheard of in Canadian politics but it does come with some risks. Take for example Quebec Premier Bernard Landry, who appointed David Levine as a junior health minister in 2002 only to see him lose a by-election shortly afterward. The defeated candidate resigned from cabinet the next day.
While he may choose to include new talent from outside the PC Caucus, Mr. Prentice will still need to choose the bulk of his cabinet ministers from inside the current PC caucus. And his picks became slimmer yesterday as former Energy minister Ken Hughes announced that he will not seek re-election as MLA for Calgary-West.
New Senior Staff
Mr. Prentice announced that former Liberal MLA Mike Percy will be his Chief of Staff and Patricia Misutkawill be his Principal Secretary. Both could bring a stronger Edmonton-perspective to Calgarian Mr. Prentice’s inner circle and appear to be competent choices for the roles.
Dr. Percy is the former Dean of Business at the University of Alberta and served as the MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud from 1993 to 1997 (defeating rookie PC candidate Dave Hancock in 1993). He served as the Official Opposition Finance Critic for much of his time in the Legislature. It is suspected that Dr. Percy would have been appointed as Finance Minister if the Liberals, led by Laurence Decore, had won the 1993 election.
Ms. Misutka is the former Chief of Staff to Mr. Mandel and was one of four co-chairs of Mr. Prentice’s leadership campaign. After Mr. Mandel’s retirement, she worked as a Senior Advisor with the Canadian Strategy Group, a government relations company run by long-time PC Party insiders Hal Danchilla and Michael Lohner.