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Alberta Politics

Kenney’s office hit with lawsuit alleging sexual harassment, defamation, and toxic workplace culture at the Legislature

On Oct. 26, 2021, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was having a rare good day. He got the result he argued he was looking for from the province-wide Equalization Referendum and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave him the gift of appointing long-time environmental activist Steven Guilbeault as Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

Kenney’s good day lasted less than 24 hours.

In what can only be described as a bombshell story, the CBC first reported today that a former ministerial Chief of Staff is suing the Premier’s Office, “saying she suffered from a toxic workplace culture and was fired as retribution for speaking out about the problems she saw there.”

Devin Dreeshen

The allegations in Ariella Kimmel‘s lawsuit include sexual harassment and heavy drinking by ministers and staff in legislature offices, as well as claims that senior staff in the premier’s office fabricated rumours about her contributing to her termination, reported CBC journalist Elise von Scheel.

The CBC reported that Kimmel has filed a lawsuit against the Kenney’s office for alleged sexual harassment and defamation.

Kimmel was Chief of Staff to Minister Doug Schweitzer until February 2021 and before that worked as Director of Community Relations in the Premier’s Office and as the United Conservative Party’s Director of Outreach before the 2019 election.

Kimmel had previously worked for Kenney during his time in Ottawa as executive coordinator for multiculturalism when he was Minister of Employment and Social Development and as an assistant during his time as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

The statement of claim, which is reported in detail by CBC, makes serious allegations against numerous officials and staffers in the UCP government, including Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen.

Responding to a question in the Assembly today from Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood NDP MLA Janis Irwin, Kenney said that his office was appointing an independent review to make recommendations to revise human resource practices for political staff.

Calgary-Fish Creek UCP MLA Richard Gotfried called on the government to not wait for a review and instead immediately adopt the Respect in the Workplace program promoted by Respect Group Inc.

While none of the allegations have been proven in court, the conditions described are probably not uncommon in political offices across Canada. Kimmel’s lawsuit shines a big spotlight on a toxic workplace culture in the Legislature that needs to change immediately.

Aheer is having none of it

Jason Kenney and Leela Aheer, UCP MLA Chestermere-Strathmore
Jason Kenney and Leela Aheer (source: YouTube)

Chestermere-Strathmore UCP MLA Leela Aheer responded to the allegations by calling on Kenney to resign and drawing comparisons to disgraced Calgary City Councillor Sean Chu. A A former cabinet minister and UCP deputy leader, Aheer was dropped from cabinet after criticizing the UCP’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Standing at a podium in the Legislature Rotunda today, Aheer refused to stand down and appeared to be daring Kenney and her MLA colleagues to remove her from the UCP Caucus.

UCP MLAs voted to remove Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes and Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen from the caucus in June following Loewen’s call for Kenney to resign.

Kenney avoided a caucus revolt and non-confidence vote last month when he agreed to push up his leadership review from fall 2022 to April 2022. That move was successful in appeasing the disorganized opposition inside the UCP Caucus, but not the party, as numerous UCP constituency associations continue to push for Kenney’s review to be held before March 1, 2022.

Kenney’s approval rating dropped to an abysmal 22 per cent last month and leaked poll results showed that 75 per cent of Albertans disapprove of the UCP government, one of the strongest disapproval ratings for an Alberta government in recent memory.

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Alberta Politics

UCP shuffle ministerial staff ahead of legislative session

With the Legislative Assembly returning to start the spring session at the end of the month, there was another big shuffle of ministerial chiefs of staff at the Legislature today.

In the Premier’s office, Pam Livingston is now Deputy Chief of Staff. Livingston recently served as Chief of Staff to Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon and was executive assistant to Justice Minister Verlyn Olson and Seniors and Community Supports Minister Greg Melchin.

There has been significant turnover in Premier Jason Kenney’s office over the past six months, with his three most senior advisors departing – Howard Anglin to Oxford, David Knight Legg to Invest Alberta, and Jamie Huckabay as a result of last month’s hot holiday scandal. The departure of these three is said to have created no shortage of chaos in Kenney’s office at a time when internal stability should be essential.

Livingston will be replaced in Nixon’s office by Megan Griffith, who previously served as Chief of Staff to Saskatchewan’s Minister of Rural & Remote Health.

Janet MacEachern, who has served as Chief of Staff to Minister of Labour & Immigration Jason Copping since 2019, is the new Director of Talent in the Premier’s Office, replacing Amber Griffiths who will be taking maternity leave.

Ariella Kimmel, Chief of Staff to Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer, is leaving and will be replaced by Jonah Mozeson, who currently works as Chief of Staff to Minister Justice and Solicitor General Kaycee Madu. 

Riley Braun, who currently serves as Senior Advisor to Madu, will replace Mozeson as Acting Chief of Staff.

Also leaving is Robyn Henwood, who has served as Chief of Staff to Minister Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney and previously served as Director of the United Conservative Party Caucus.

Henwood will be replaced by Kulshan Gill. Gill was acclaimed as the UCP candidate in Edmonton-Strathcona in the 2019 provincial election after an unsuccessful bid to win the party nomination in Edmonton-Manning. 

Veteran political communicator Jerry Bellikka is replacing Mat Steppan as Chief of Staff to Energy Minister Sonya Savage. Bellikka recently returned to the Legislature to work as Press Secretary for the Minister Community and Social Services.

Also apparently departing Savage’s office is Press Secretary Peter Brodsky, who only recently joined the Energy Minister’s office after previous Press Secretary Kavi Bal joined the Premier’s Office as Director of Strategic Planning.

Steppan is now Chief of Staff to acting Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver, who was appointed to the dual role following Tracy Allard’s return from a Hawaiian vacation last month.

Jonathan Koehli, McIver’s current Chief of Staff for the dual role, will now become Chief of Staff to Copping in Labour & Immigration.

Before he returned to work at the Legislature in January 2020, Koehli previously served as Chief of Staff to Finance Minister Robin Campbell before the Progressive Conservative Party’s defeat in the 2015 election.

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Alberta Politics

Ministerial staff changes follow UCP mini-cabinet shuffle

The recent mini-cabinet shuffle is being followed by a series of staffing changes among the senior ministerial ranks of the United Conservative Party government.

Announced during last week’s shuffle that saw Kaycee Madu appointed Justice Minister, Doug Schweitzer put in charge of a newly rebranded economic ministry and Tracy Allard promoted to Municipal Affairs, was the departure of Premier Jason Kenney’s Principal Secretary Howard Anglin, who is being replaced by Larry Kaumeyer.

Other changes announced today include the departure of the Premier’s Director of Community Relations Ariella Kimmel, who will now take the role of Chief of Staff to Schweitzer. Kimmel replaces current Chief of Staff Kris Barker, who will now become a Senior Policy Advisor in the office of Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda.

More changes in Room 307 include, Julia Bareman leaving Finance Minister Travis Toews office to join the Premier’s office as a Policy Advisor and Manager of Stakeholder Relations Siobain Quinton and Executive Assistant Clancy Bouwman moving to part-time roles as they pursue post-secondary studies.

Staffing changes in ministerial offices include:

  • Brock Harrison has been appointed as Executive Director of the UCP Caucus, moving on from his role as Chief of Staff to the Minster of Children’s Services. Harrison is a long-time political staffer, having served as Communication Director of the Wildrose Caucus and in the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition in Ottawa.
  • Current press secretary to the Minister of Children’s Services Lauren Armstrong will become the new Chief of Staff. Alberta Proud spokesperson Becca Polak will take over as Press Secretary in this office. Polak was a candidate for the UCP nomination in Calgary-Mountain View ahead of the 2019 election.
  • At the UCP Caucus, Harrison replaces Robyn Henwood, who will take over as Chief of Staff to Community and Social Services Miniser Rajan Sawhney. Current Chief of Staff Ryan Hastman will move into a new role which has yet to be announced.
  • Current Indigenous Relations Press Secretary Ted Bauer has been promoted to Chief of Staff in Minster Rick Wilson’s office and UCP Caucus Director of Communications Joseph Dow will take over as Press Secretary in this office.
  • Riley Braun, the current Chief of Staff in Indigenous Affairs, will become a senior advisor in the office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General.
  • Jonah Mozeson has been promoted from Press Secretary to Chief of Staff in the office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General. Mozeson is married to Jamie Mozeson, who is currently the Chief of Staff to Minister of Service Alberta Nate Glubish.
  • Long-time Kenney ally, Blaise Boehmer has been appointed as Senior Press Secretary in the Office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, moving over from his role as Special Advisor to Agriculture & Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen. Bohemer was director of communications for Kenney’s UCP leadership campaign and the manager of communications and engagement for the UCP caucus from 2017 to 2018. He previously worked as director of research and operations for the Saskatchewan Party Caucus in Regina.
  • Kalee Kent has been appointed a Legislative Assistant in the office of Minster of Environment & Parks Jason Nixon, moving from her current role as Ministerial Assistant in the Office of the Municipal Affairs Minister. Kent was Constituency Development Director for the UCP from 2016 to 2019 and previously worked for the Saskatchewan Party and Regina-Coronation Park MLA Mark Docherty.