After staff departures, former Ontario-based political operatives hold two top roles in Alberta Premier’s Office.
Last week it was announced that Jay O’Neill is departing his job as Director Communications under Premier Alison Redford‘s. Although Mr. O’Neill only joined the Premier’s office in late 2011, it is not uncommon for individuals to only fill these types positions for a short period of time.
The Tories were hit with a handful of embarrassing scandals in the closing months of 2012 and were caught unprepared, having to spend the fall sitting of the Assembly playing defence against an aggressive Wildrose Party opposition. The Spring sitting of the Assembly will begin on March 5, 2013.
Four other staff left or announced their departures from Premier Redford’s communications office over the past few months, perhaps a result of internal pressure to change direction and take a more aggressive approach towards political communications in 2013.
Tammy Forbes left her job as the Premier’s Communications Liaison Manager to become Chief of Staff to embattled Tourism Parks and Recreation Minister Christine Cusanelli. Minister Cusanelli faced harsh criticism before the Christmas break when she was forced to repay the government $10,600 for expenses racked up in her first five months in office, including a $4,000 airfare charge to have her daughter and mother fly with her to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, United Kingdom.
Before joining the Premier’s office in 2011, Ms. Forbes was director of communications in the Department of Transportation.
Two other departing staff have jumped from their political jobs to roles in the public service. Tracy Balash has left the Premier’s Communications Office to become the Executive Director of Communications Planning in the Public Affairs Bureau (PAB). As noted in a recent Globe & Mail article, the PAB is in a period of transition after the retirement of Kathy Lazowski, its executive director of strategic communications.
The Premier’s Issues Manager Nikki Booth is now the Acting Issues Manager (Communications) in the Department of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
Kim Misik, the Premier’s press secretary, also announced that she will be leaving her position.
Social Media Manager Mike Jenkinson remains the longest serving member of the Premier’s team, having started in the office during Ed Stelmach‘s premiership.
The new Director of Communications is Stefan Baranski, who joined the Premier’s office as Director of Strategic Communications in September 2012 after leaving his job with the Toronto-based Counsel Public Affairs firm. In Ontario, he served as senior advisor to PC Party leaders Tim Hudak and John Tory, and Premier Ernie Eves.
Mr. Baranski is not the only former Ontario-based political operative in the Premier’s office. While originally from Alberta, Director of Operations Darren Cunningham is a veteran of Ottawa’s political scene, having served in Chief of Staff and communications roles for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and various Conservative cabinet ministers. He started working for the Premier’s office in June 2012. Another Ottawa insider, Lee Richardson left his job as a Member of Parliament to become the Premier’s Principal Secretary in May 2012.
It is suspected that not all of these vacant positions in the Communications office will be filled. Some sources suggest that the Premier’s office may increase their reliance on consultants from outside political and communications companies to fill the gap.