Premier Rachel Notley splits human services department, appoints new cabinet member

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley reconfigured her cabinet Thursday and split the human services department into two ministries.

Notley called decision to split the human services ministry 'overdue'

Premier Rachel Notley stands with new and reassigned ministers of her cabinet: Children's Services Minister Danielle Larivee, Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson, and Community and Social Services Minister Irfan Sabir. (CBC)

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley reconfigured her cabinet Thursday and split the human services department into two ministries, a move she called "overdue."

The province will now have a department of children's services, led by former Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee. 

The other half of the ministry, now known as Community and Social Services, will be headed by Irfan Sabir, the former minister of Human Services. 

Shaye Anderson, the MLA for Leduc-Beaumont, will replace Larivee as municipal affairs minister. 

The decision to split the ministries was not surprising, given that Notley mused about making such a change in her year-end interviews last month. Human Services was created in October 2011 by amalgamating children's services, employment, immigration, housing and homeless supports under one mega-minstry. 

At a news conference at Government House on Thursday afternoon, Notley said the Human Services ministry had become too "large and difficult to manage."

"We believe that it was overdue to separate them out and to ensure that the many issues which need to be addressed within those two ministries each get the attention that they deserve from two dedicated and focused ministers," she said. 

The decision to create a separate ministry devoted to children's services shows an increased focus on protecting children, Notley said. She also acknowledged it was spurred by the case of Serenity, a four-year-old girl who died while in the care of the province after being rushed to the hospital with head trauma.

"We want to support our most vulnerable children and ensure they never go to bed hungry or scared," Notley said. "Today's announcement means we will have more resources and more attention dedicated to taking care of our children and our communities."

No promotion for Jansen

The shuffle moves Sabir away from responsibility for children in care. Opposition MLAs called for his resignation before Christmas after delays in getting a government report on Serenity's death were revealed through a media report.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said Sabir should not be rewarded for "bad behaviour" by keeping his seat at the cabinet table. 

"While I have serious doubts about Mr. Sabir's abilities to make positive changes, I hope for nothing more than improvements to our child intervention system through the new minister, and will do all I can to help in this effort," he said in a news release. 

Some expected Sandra Jansen, the former PC MLA who crossed to the NDP in November, would be appointed to a cabinet post. 

Notley said there are 55 talented members in her caucus, so picking a new minister was difficult. She said Jansen has been valuable in giving her and the caucus advice on how to increase engagement and outreach in Calgary. 

"So that's a role that I'm very pleased she is able to play for us," the premier said.

Larivee, the MLA for Lesser Slave Lake, was the lead minister on the Fort McMurray wildfire recovery. Notley praised her efforts in finally getting the complex Municipal Government Act passed last fall. 

Anderson, the newest member of cabinet, was the deputy chair of the standing committee of public accounts, and a member of the standing committee on economic future. 

He is also known for his bushy beard, which Notley couldn't help but noting in her speech. 

"Behind the stunning beard is a person who knows the value of listening, a person who knows the value of hard work, and a person who knows the tremendous value of bringing people together to solve problems," she said.

Anderson said he was humbled and honoured by the appointment.

"While I know I have a lot of work ahead of me and a lot of learning to do, I am ready to dive head-first into this job and to work with our municipal partners to continue moving forward." 

Here's how the old Human Services ministry will be split between the two ministers: 

Department of Children's Services

The minister of children's services is responsible for statutes specific to child intervention, child care and early childhood development, including:

  • Child Care Licensing Act
  • Child and Youth Advocate Act
  • Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act 
  • Children First Act
  • Drug-endangered Children Act
  • Protection of Sexually Exploited Children Act

Department of Community and Social Services

The minister of community and social services has responsibility for the following statutes:

  • Family and Community Support Services Act
  • Persons with Developmental Disabilities Services Act
  • Persons with Developmental Disabilities Foundation Act
  • Protection Against Family Violence Act
  • Building Families and Communities Act
  • Premier's Council on Alberta's Promise Act
  • Premier's Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities Act
  • Adult Adoption Act
  • Blind Persons' Rights Act
  • Service Dogs Act
  • Social Care Facilities Review Committee Act