Alberta's new cabinet disappoints opposition parties

Alberta's opposition parties are not impressed with Premier Jim Prentice's smaller cabinet announced Monday.

2 unelected members included in Monday's announcement

Jim Prentice speaks to media after being sworn in as Alberta's 16th Premier in Edmonton on Monday. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

Alberta's opposition parties are not impressed with Premier Jim Prentice's smaller cabinet announced Monday.

It includes two people who aren't members of the legislature — former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel and former Calgary Board of Education member Gordon Dirks.

Prentice also needs to find a seat.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith says Prentice promised a new and fresh cabinet but 75 per cent of it is the same as it was under former premier Alison Redford.

"Three quarters of Prentice’s new cabinet is made up of Redford-era cabinet ministers who stood by in silence as the government was embroiled in scandal and controversy," said Smith in a release.

"The PC minister who used the government planes the most — well over 100 times last year — Robin Campbell, is now in charge of the government fleet at his new position as finance minister." 

The use of a government planes when commercial flights were available became a hot topic for former premier Alison Redford.

She also questions giving two unelected individuals the key posts of health and education, which accounts for about half of the provincial budget.

"Instead of focused and strong leadership, Mr. Prentice has decided to play politics with Albertans' health and education," Smith's statement said.

'They have no mandate from the public'

Smith says the two men won't be able to focus on their jobs while they're campaigning for seats in the legislature.

NDP leader Brian Mason agreed.

"They’re unelected. They have no mandate from the public," he said.

"They won’t be present in the legislature to answer questions about their handling of their job and their department. That’s a real problem. I think Albertans expect that members of the government will be elected by the public before they start serving in those positions. That’s a problem as well." 

Mason says the cabinet is so lame that if it was a horse he would shoot it.

"I think the cabinet is much weaker than I expected," said Mason. "Quite frankly, I think he’s appointed a number of people who are not well suited to their role."

He says some people choices were passed up because of their connection to Redford, like Doug Horner.

"I know that Stephen Khan was fired by Alison Redford when he was minister of Advance Education because he couldn’t work with the post secondary sector," said Mason.

Cabinet scarce on women, rural MLAs

Even some PC Party insiders were surprised by some of Prentice's cabinet decisions.

"Jeff Johnson — of course — got the biggest emotion, but some might argue that he dodged a bullet just by staying in cabinet," said Susan Elliott, the president of Catalyst Management and Communications.

"Heather Klimchuk got a huge promotion moving into the Human Services portfolio, so those were two that struck me."

But she thought Doug Griffiths would be included because he young and full of ideas. Elliott also thought more junior ministers from the previous government would be given positions, such as Rick Fraser and Richard Starke. 

She says this cabinet shows that Prentice is planning to take on a more hands-on approach to the party's inner circle than Redford — which was shown by the premier taking on the roles of aboriginal affairs and international and intergovernmental relations.

Elliot was disappointed to only see four women in the cabinet.

Michael Lohner with the Canadian Strategic Group believes geography could be the biggest challenge for Prentice in the future. He says the cabinet is lacking on rural voices.

"We lost a couple ministers from central Alberta, and we lost one minister from southern Alberta," he said. "So we got a cabinet that is not represented outside the cities south of Wetaskiwin."

'He'll have to be scandal-free' before election

Both insiders believe there won't be an immediate election, especially since there needs to be three byelections for Prentice and unelected cabinet members.

Elliot believes the party will wait until closer to Alberta's fixed election date in 2016 so the party can raise money and show how it's changed from under Redford's rule.

Political scientist Duane Bratt says the fall sitting of the legislature will set the tone of the next election.

"What he'll need to do is balance the budget," he said. "He has to make progress on the pipelines, and he'll have to be scandal-free for a year and a half. If he does those three things, he's got a shot in the next election."

Bratt said Prentice had a small margin for error in announcing his cabinet, and a lot to consider.

"Edmonton versus Calgary. Urban versus rural. Gender balances — all these things, which he had to do, plus in this case he had to shrink the size of the cabinet and he had to reflect some sort of difference between him and Redford."

The Canadian Press


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