“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 Misutka will 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.
Redford staffer lands pipeline job
It appears that Alison Redford’s former communications director, Stefan Baranski, has landed a new job as Regional Director for Ontario at with TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline project.
One reply on “Jim Prentice tells Albertans to strap on their seat belts”
Since you mentionned David Levine’s short stint as a Quebec Cabinet Minister under Landry in 2002, I figured I would step in and add some context to that failed attempt…
Mr. Levine was a highly regarded individual with great medical administration credentials – perfect in fact to be a health minister. The seat he lost in that by-election in the Berthier riding was considered to be a very safe one for the Parti Quebecois as it is located in Lanaudiere, a region that consistently votes PQ and until recently Bloc Quebecois, federally. It also had the highest proportion of individuals who voted yes in the 1995 referendum after Saguenay-Lac St-Jean. Sure, the ADQ candidate who eventually beat Mr. Levine was strong, but she lost to the PQ in the following general election, despite that party being relegated to the Official Opposition. Mr. Levine’s real problem was that he was an anglophone from Montreal. The Berthier riding is rural, 98% French and that proportion is probably similar when it comes to religion and ethnicity. In other words, like most ridings with similar demographics, it does not traditionally have a high political tolerance for geographic and/or cultural outsiders.
Another interesting bit of info… This is a riding that is a part of the federal Berthier-Maskinonge riding, one that became famous in 2011 when its constituents elected NDP’s Ruth Ellen Brosseau. I know this riding inside out as I grew up in that area and I can tell you that the only reason she won was that voters in that riding did not realize she was an anglophone from Ottawa (as a side note, Mr. Levine’s French was way better than hers when he was a provincial candidate a decade earlier). I am convinced that Ms. Brosseau would have lost her election had her last name been “Smith” instead of French-sounding “Brosseau” or if she had bothered showing during the campaign.