The staff overhaul in Premier Alison Redford‘s Communications Office has resulted in two new hires. One was already working in Alberta’s Legislature and the other comes direct from Ontario’s provincial legislature.
Already under the dome, Michael Norris left his job as Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths‘ press secretary to become the Premier’s Issues Manager.
Neala Barton is the outgoing Director of Media Relations for recently retired Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty and will soon begin her new job as the media relations lead in the Alberta Premier’s Communications Office (now to be referred to as “Queen’s Park West“). She is also a former reporter with CBC television in Edmonton.
Facing-off against an aggressive official opposition, it is no coincidence that the Premier’s communications team is looking to hire political operators from a province where political competition is not a new phenomenon.
On a related note, I have been unable to confirm rumours that special orders from the Brewers Retail and Pizza Pizza will be flown in daily to Edmonton.
If you have any questions about these changes, please contact 416-967-1111.
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.
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.
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.
Despite winning a large majority in last spring’s provincial election, Alberta’s long-governing Progressive Conservatives had a rough ride in the media and on the floor of the Assembly last year. If Tory MLAs hoped for a reprieve in 2013, they may be disappointed.
Starting off the year are three investigations that are direct results of political scandals and controversies from 2012:
Today, former Capital Health Board Chair Neil Wilkinson (now Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner) and Health Minister Fred Horne will be questioned. On Friday, Calgary Flames team doctor Jim Thorne and former Alberta Health Services chairman Ken Hughes (now an MLA and Energy Minister) will be appear as witnesses before the inquiry.
Anyone looking for a Watergate-type scandal that directly connects politically-influenced queue-jumping to the Premier’s office will likely be disappointed.
Elections Alberta investigates billionaire’s donations to PC Party
“…retired Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Ernest Marshall has been appointed Director of the investigation, and Don Vander Graaf and Dave Davies have been retained as independent investigators.”
Elections Alberta will investigate a large donation allegedly made by pharmaceutical industry billionaire Daryl Katz, owner of the Edmonton Oilers, to the Progressive Conservative Party during the 2012 election. Mr. Katz is alleged to have made a $430,000 donation to the PC Party by funnelling funds through his family and employees. Under Alberta’s elections finance laws, maximum individual donations during an election period are limited to $30,000.
The official decision to choose the firm was made after the Premier had resigned as Justice Minister in 2012, but the recommendation of which law firm to choose was made during her tenure in the position.
Jay O’Neill, Director of Communications for Premier Redford is leaving his position. Globe & Mail journalist Josh Wingrove noted on Twitter yesterday that over the last few months, along with Mr. O’Neill, four other staff have departed from Premier Redford’s communications office at the Assembly (Mr. O’Neill, Nikki Booth, Kim Misik, Tammy Forbes, Tracy Balash).
While it is difficult to speculate whether these departures were voluntary or not, it does appear that the Premier’s office may be taking steps to improve its communications and issues management strategy (especially in light of the investigations noted above).