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New Alberta premier and cabinet to be sworn in today

A new era in Alberta politics will be ushered in Tuesday morning as United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney is sworn in as the province's 18th premier.

New Kenney cabinet will signal priorities as first mandate begins

Premier designate Jason Kenney will be sworn in Tuesday as Alberta's 18th premier. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

A new era in Alberta politics is being ushered in Tuesday morning as United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney is sworn in as the province's 18th premier.

Kenney will take his oath of executive council at a ceremony at Government House in Edmonton beginning at 10 a.m. MST.

In his first act as premier, Kenney will publicly name and swear in his cabinet, which will set the direction of the new United Conservative Party government.

Regardless of who is given one of the coveted cabinet positions, the list — a closely guarded secret — will be a reflection of Kenney's priorities, election promises and direction, says Mount Royal University professor Lori Williams.

"He's got to be very strategic, very nuanced in the approach that he takes over the next few months because you don't want to be turning too many people against you," Williams said. "You need partners, you need allies."

A long list

With 63 UCP MLAs, most of whom are rookies, Kenney has a long list of names from which to choose.

The new premier must consider region, gender, and diversity when selecting the new team, Williams said. The choices he makes is also an opportunity for the new premier to telegraph priorities and what he takes seriously, she said.

Jason Kenney's new cabinet will signal his priorities, says Lori Williams, political science professor with Mount Royal University in Calgary. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

As an example, Williams suggested that a good choice might be to appoint Sonya Savage, the MLA-elect from Calgary-North West, to the environment ministry. Savage is a lawyer with experience in environment and energy.

"If he wants to show that he takes the environment seriously, it may be a good idea to put her in environment rather than in energy," Williams said. "She's somebody who has both sides of that coin covered."

Williams thinks the new premier will create new portfolios to put his early stamp on government.

Overriding his decisions will be the sputtering economy, lack of pipelines, carbon tax — and high expectations.

The anger expressed at the Notley NDP government during the election campaign could be re-directed at the UCP if supporters don't feel the new cabinet is moving quickly enough, Williams said.

"That's not going to change overnight. And that anger and those expectations that he raised during the campaign are going to be very difficult to deliver on."

Ministries added and dropped

According to the UCP platform, a ministry of red tape reduction will be created. Other portfolios may be eliminated.

According to Marie Renaud, the NDP MLA for St. Albert, one of the ministries at risk could be Status of Women.

Created by the NDP government as a standalone ministry for the first time in 2015, the department is mandated to improve economic conditions for women.

According to its annual report, the ministry was to advance equality of women through three specific areas: economic security, women's leadership and ending violence against women and girls.

In a tweet, Renaud wrote that she doubts Kenney will maintain the portfolio.

"Just going by his voting record and bubble zone walkouts, I'm going with no," Renaud posted.

There are also questions of who among the new MLAs will be tasked with the enormous responsibility of handling the largest department in government, the health ministry.

Regardless of who is at the helm, Sandra Azocar, executive director of Friends of Medicare, will be watching for more privatization of public services and whether wait times will be addressed.

"My expectation is, whoever takes over this incredibly large and complex ministry is going to be able to have an understanding of the governance and what takes to make sure that Albertans have access to a timely quality health care system," Azocar said.

Size of cabinet

Unlike the never-before-elected NDP government which began in 2015 with a tiny 12-person cabinet, Kenney is expected to start with about 20 cabinet ministers.

Aside from Kenney, the only member of his caucus with experience in governing is Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver, making him a likely addition to cabinet, according to Williams.

In previous Conservative governments, McIver served as Alberta's minister for transportation as well as infrastructure. 

Other possible additions include Kaycee Madu, the MLA-elect for Edmonton-South West and the only UCP candidate to win a seat in the capital city.

Leela Aheer, former deputy leader of the official opposition under the UCP, is also a likely choice to gain a cabinet post, as is Nate Horner from Drumheller-Stettler.

The first legislative session of the new government is expected to begin May 21.

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