Alberta Politics

Jim Prentice appoints another Pipeline Obsessed Cabinet

Jim Prentice Pipeline Cabinet Oil Sands
Members of the PC cabinet, elected and non-elected, stand preparing to be sworn-in to their new jobs at Government House today.

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.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader
Jim Prentice

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.

Frank Oberle MLA Peace River
Frank Oberle

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).

Teresa Woo Paw MLA
Teresa Woo-Paw

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.

Kyle Fawcett MLA Calgary-Klein
Kyle Fawcett

His past relations with northern Albertans opposed to nuclear development may be an indication to how the new energy minister plans to approach opposition to pipeline expansion.

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

Stephen Mandel Edmonton
Stephen Mandel

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-skin when 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 Alberta Edmonton MLA PC Leadership
Thomas Lukaszuk

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.

12 replies on “Jim Prentice appoints another Pipeline Obsessed Cabinet”

We live in interesting times. Very interested in Mr. Dirks. I see Licia Corbella has already written a column accusing people of bigotry for worrying that a man who appears to be very fond of private schools may not be the best choice for public education Minister. I think she missed the point completely (and her comment that he was one of the most competent chairs of Calgary Board of Education is akin to saying he is the tallest munchkin in all of Oz.) But he did seem to handle section 11.1 very well when he was with CBE. I am interested – has there been another Canadian who has served in more than one Provincial Cabinet – and assuming he gets elected elected, has served in more than one legislature?

@David – Missing the point appears to be a common theme in Ms. Corbella’s columns.

I am sure there have been individuals who have jumped between provincial legislatures in Canada, but I can’t name any off the top of my head. I will look into it.

– Dave

More of the same. I can’t believe that Prentice would bring in a 69 year old Stephen Mandel over young and talented MLAs like Matt Jeneroux and Doug Grittiths. Just more from the old boys club. More of the same.

Dirks is a welcome appointment. Most of the social media chastisement of him is “bigotry”, not “worrying that a man who appears to be very fond of private schools may not be the best choice for public education Minister”. Did this fondness manifest itself in any way, shape or form during Dirks decade long tenure as a CBE trustee/chair? Didn’t think so.

One well known commentator is particularly agitated that Dirks is unlikely to prioritize things like mandatory GSAs above far less substantive issues like curriculum changes that have seen Alberta student performance plummet and infrastructure needs that are decades behind enrollment numbers and getting worse. If this proves true, he might actually win a few more votes for the Tories.

Dirks’ appointment is some evidence that Prentice will forego the path to electoral success of his predecessor, i.e. inciting the ATA among others to rally the troops in support of the leader most likely to whisper sweet progressive nothings in their ears. Perhaps this is because Prentice realizes he owes his position to how well that all worked out.

I’ve never been a fan of Mandel’s pro-private sector development-oriented policies.

But… he’s probably got the right leadership style to handle the what might be the key problem with AHS… it has appeared from what I read in the press over the last years, that a lot of the problems with AHS is that it’s very top heavy with executives of all sorts. Too many VP’s and directors of all sorts. Way too much managerial class and far too little support for hearing input from and providing opportunities for some steering of the system by doctors and nurses.

Given the news coverage of intimidation of doctors who have tried to point out problems with capacity in AHS by the managerial/exec. class of AHS, I’d say the organizational balance is wrong by a lot.

So, IMO, Mandel has the experience and gravitas to deal with that executive/managerial crowd. He’s not going to be intimidated by legions of executives, whereas a junior MLA, younger, less experienced would be easy pickings, easy to work around.

And I thought I heard comments by either Prentice or Mandel already about the need to decentralize… a) that neutralizes Wildrose’s key complaint b) that’s going to mean there is less need for central office exec’s/managers.

Mandel’s cranky, no B.S. style is probably just what’s needed to deliver serious cuts to the probably bloated numbers of top management, if that’s where Prentice is going.

No cabinet representation from Lethbridge. No cabinet representation from Red Deer. No cabinet representation from east Alberta. No cabinet representation from south of Calgary.

When Mandel decided not to run for another term as Mayor of Edmonton, his reason was that he wanted to spend more time with his family… totally denied being interested in provincial politics. I guess he’s had enough family time! Or, maybe he meant his PC family! I hope Albertan’s let the PCs know what they think of appointing non-elected people to cabinet by voting for someone else in the bi-election!

Im a little confused by the development this week in Albera.

The patronage appointments to party insiders like Mandel and Dirks show the attempt at broadening the PC brand in order to encapsulate social conservatives and moderates. Mandel represents the tax and spend Liberal wing of the Conservative party, and Dirks who reprents the increasingly small remaining partition of the the sinking ship.

The reality is this party is ideological weak without a an identity. They are governing with an unelected voice without a real mandate. What is truely puzzling is that an unelected Premier without support can summons up the authority to porogue the legistlature till hes got his ducks in line.

Why did our grandfathers fight for again?

RE: Mandel – in health. Really? This is the man who arranged a half billion dollar arena for a billionaire – a billionaire who also happens to own a vast network of drugstores in a pharma-related empire that wrote big cheques for the Redford Tories when they were on their last legs. I find these connections very troublesome – particularly because I anticipate that not only will Albertans get stuck for a big arena complex in downtown Edmonton (can you say “gridlock’) but will also get nailed down the road for building flyover/infrastructure as a last minute thought to access the arena. And continuing with Redford’s plan to set up family clinics, seems like someone is already standing in line to serve. Will that be based on best service to Albertans or just convenience or patronage?? Someone should keep an eye on this.

I put the call out on the facebook page and got a few responds to the question about Canadians who have served in two provincial legislatures.

It’s not as common as I initially thought.

Here are three:

Gulzar Singh Cheema was a Liberal MLA in Manitoba from 1988 to 1993 and Liberal MLA in the BC Legislature from 2001 to 2004.

Duncan Marshall was a Liberal MLA in Alberta from 1909 to 1921 (and Minister of Agriculture) and Liberal MPP in the Ontario from 1934 to 1937 (and Minister of Agriculture). He was appointed to the Senate by William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1938. He served in the Senate until his death in 1946.

Alexander Mackay served in Ontario’s legislature from 1902 to 1913 and in the Alberta legislature from 1913 to 1920. He was leader of the Official Opposition in Ontario from 1907 to 1911. He was also Alberta’s first Health Minister.

@Lethbridge blues: while true, is this a genuine problem? Cabinets aren’t intended to be representative, that’s what the legislature is for; Cabinets are supposed to be about administration and exercising the executive authority of government by leading government departments. Part of the bloat we have seen in Cabinets in recent decades, especially but not exclusively at the Federal level, is related to an attempt to make of a Cabinet a representative body: enough people of colour, enough women, enough from different regions, different “wings” of the governing party, etc.

I’m more concerned that neither of the two Ministers now at the heads of the largest and most controversial departments of the Alberta gov’t are directly accountable to the legislature, and they won’t be until/unless they are elected in some yet-to-be scheduled by-elections.

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