By Lethbridge Herald on May 26, 2015.
It’s not business as usual in Edmonton, local political observers agree. The province’s first New Democrat government is visibly different from Alberta’s previous governments.
“It really does look like the people are running the government,” says Faron Ellis, a political science instructor at Lethbridge College.
Almost all are newcomers to the legislature, with eight of the newcomers — including Shannon Phillips from Lethbridge West — named to Premier Rachel Notley’s initial cabinet.
In time those numbers will be expanded, Ellis expects.
“There’s plenty of talented people there.”
And many of them have related, real-life experience to rely on. Ellis points to the new education minister, David Eggen and his background in the public schools.
“For the first time I remember, we actually have a teacher in the education portfolio.”
After years of budget debates on Calgary city council, Ellis says, new Calgary cabinet minister Joe Ceci should be able to work with the provincial budget.
As a former bus driver who served many years on Edmonton city council, he adds, house leader Brian Mason has first-hand experience with infrastructure and transportation — his new ministries.
The government caucus now includes many front-line employees — social workers, teachers and labour negotiators among them — but Ellis notes it also includes many people with graduate or post-graduate degrees.
“A lot of people have political science degrees,” he quips. “I can’t argue with that.”
While many of the newly elected MLAs are relatively unknown, Ellis predicts Albertans will hear more from them when the premier names them as committee chairs, associate ministers or other positions within government.
“They’ll need more people to do the heavy lifting.”
But for now, Ellis expects Albertans will be pleased to see a slimmed-down cabinet getting to work on campaign issues.
“This should be a cabinet that’s close to the people on the ground,” he says.
Premier Notley’s decisions “seem to reflect what voters were voting for.”
As southern Alberta’s only cabinet minister, he adds, Phillips is likely to become the “go to” minister for many communities and groups in the south. But she’ll also be expected to help the new government create updated policies on such issues as logging in the Castle River recreation area, and drilling for oil or gas inside city limits.
At the same time, Phillips will be minister of parks and recreation as well as minister responsible for the status of women — there’s gender parity in the new cabinet — while also serving as a deputy leader in the legislature.
“Shannon is no stranger to environmental issues,” Ellis observes.
But at the same time, she’s part of a government that’s promised ongoing consultation with the energy companies.
That’s going to prove challenging, suggests political scientist Geoffrey Hale.
“It is an interesting opportunity for Shannon Phillips,” he says.
Just the same, he adds, “All the ministers are facing a massive learning curve.”
Hale, a member of the political science faculty at the University of Lethbridge, says he expects any “major policy interactions” — such as the interface between environmental concerns and the energy sector — will be brokered through the premier’s office.
Following the province’s first change in government for more than 43 years, he says the premier’s decision not to table a budget until fall makes sense. There’s no need to rush.
“It provides enough time to work out the details of governing, and paying for campaign commitments,” he says.
“One rarely gets a second chance to make a good first impression.”
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