By Jensen, Randy on August 26, 2020.
While Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf said Premier Kenney’s decision to shuffle his cabinet on Tuesday represented a minor, mid-term, course adjustment, Lethbridge-West MLA and Opposition Finance Critic Shannon Phillips said it was an acknowledgement of UCP government’s ongoing failure to come to grips with the dire economic situation Alberta finds itself in.
Both MLAs made their comments after Premier Kenney announced he was moving former Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer over to replace Tanya Fir, (who was subsequently dropped from cabinet), as the province’s chief economic booster in a new Jobs, Economy and Innovation portfolio. Over the past two turbulent years, Schweitzer has been under fire from rural municipalities over rural policing costs brought in by his government, and had been accused of conflict-of-interest in choosing a former associate of his law firm and campaign supporter to sit as chair of the committee investigating foreign-funding in anti-oilsands campaigns, (for which he was later cleared by the Ethics Commissioner).
Kenney also announced former Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu would become Canada’s first ever African-Canadian Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, and Madu’s former role at Municipal Affairs would be taken on by newly-elevated Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard.
Neudorf said the premier made his decision to shuffle cabinet ministers so he could put key people in his government in key areas where they will be most needed going forward over the next two years.
“Interesting enough Tracy Allard is my seatmate in the legislature,” Neudorf explained. “Knowing her background, and knowing her very well, I am absolutely thrilled for her. She has a tremendous amount of personal business experience. She is incredibly well educated and small-business orientated, and I think she will do a phenomenal job.”
On the Madu and Schweitzer shuffle, and in the elevation of Allard, Neudorf felt the premier just wanted to reposition his pieces a little bit.
“I don’t think a cabinet shuffle at some point in time (is unusual),” he said, “and we will likely even have another one in a four-year mandate. That’s one of the things that comes and goes, and I think the focus on our economy is appropriate at this point in time as we try to recover from COVID, and get our people back to work.”
Phillips, on the other hand, said this particular cabinet shuffle is an underlying symptom of the Kenney government’s widespread, economic-policy failures.
“The UCP government has not delivered on job creation or a practical plan for economic recovery and growth in Alberta,” she said, going on to state that the government’s poorly conceived economic recovery plans, in evidence even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, have only become exacerbated over the past few months.
“Thousands of Albertans had already lost their jobs,” Phillips stated. “We were looking at a number of different indicators of economic decline. Now it is worse. People are very worried about their economic future in Alberta, and whether they have a future in Alberta. Shuffling out the Economic Development minister is an admission that the jobs crisis is real, but I am disappointed the solutions are not real coming from this government.”
And, Phillips added, while Fir was an “incompetent” minister, she was also a convenient scapegoat for Kenney’s own inadequacies.
“I am not at all surprised Tanya Fir was shuffled out,” she stated. “She appeared rather incompetent, to my reading of the situation, but the failure wasn’t hers. This is about the premier and the tone from the top. What we see here is maybe a refurbishing of the Economic Development ministry, perhaps putting a new salesman in charge. But let’s be clear: this is not about a sales pitch, this is not about public relations. This is about the real conditions of people’s lives, and the real struggle Albertans are facing right now.”
Neudorf said he trusted the premier’s judgment when it came to who should be sitting at the cabinet table and who shouldn’t, and in what type of portfolio.
“I think (with Madu and Schweitzer), they are both incredibly engaged,” he stated. “I think the premier and cabinet felt this minor shuffle will work to their strengths, and get things even further back on their feet for recovery. I think Madu is definitely the minister for the fight on the carbon tax and a number of other things with Ottawa. So I think this is just a little bit of minor tweaking as you adjust and go forward, and I think all three of them will be a terrific fit.”
Phillips also expressed her amazement that Kenney announced a mid-term cabinet shuffle and did not shuffle out Health Minister Tyler Shandro to try to make a restart in relations with the Alberta Medical Association and alienated rural doctors, in particular, after months of bitter personal acrimony and animosity.
“I think it is the goal of the premier’s office, and this government, to create chaos within the public health-care system,” she stated. “And so, in that respect, Mr. Shandro is doing exactly the job the premier has set out for him. So it is not a total surprise he has chosen to keep a minister that has poisoned so many of the most important relationships within his portfolio.”
Neudorf said the premier likely wanted Shandro to finish the difficult work he started in coming to a fair agreement with the AMA.
“I have had a number of significant conversations with the minister, and I am hopeful he can work, with a little bit of time off, more closely with the AMA to get some things resolved,” said Neudorf. “Obviously, we want to move forward in this file and not backwards. I think the premier is giving him time to complete what he started. A job half-done, and a change there, could be very detrimental to anybody going in, or Shandro going out; so I think it’s appropriate he finish what he started, and we will see where that puts things.”
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