Alison what were you thinking?!!! Oops sorry, that was my inside voice, let me try that again. *Ahem*. Premier Redford I have a question (quite a few actually) about your recently announced Cabinet appointments.
Let’s start with your promise that the Redford government was the government of change. The Redford battle cry you’ll recall, was: if you’re looking for change elect me; if you want the Old Boys, look no further than Mr Mar and his endorsers, Mr Morton, Mr Griffiths and Mr Orman. Well, I’ve reviewed the appointees list and guess what all those Old Boys (and more) are there, with the exception of Mr Mar who’s on his way to a plum assignment in Hong Kong* and Mr Orman who’s not a sitting MLA and therefore not eligible.
Sure there are some new faces, but the neophytes are outweighed 3 to 1 in firepower by the old guard who landed all of the power portfolios. Of the 20 cabinet posts all but 7 went to existing cabinet ministers. Furthermore the key portfolios of Energy and Finance were simply switched between Mr Morton and Mr Liepert while the remaining hot button portfolios, Environment & Water and Health & Wellness are now held by former junior ministers who reported to and were trained by the Old Boys (Diana McQueen was junior minister to Mr Liepert and Mr Horne was junior minister to Mr Zwozdesky—two Old Boys who are masters at keeping the public at bay).
The remaining “new faces” (including the daring Doug Griffiths) are scattered about in lesser portfolios on the bottom half of the appointment list—a list the government says is presented “in order of precedence”. As an aside, I’d like to point out that while Service Alberta landed in the rock bottom slot let’s not forget that he who controls the IT help desk controls the world.
But back to the topic at hand. The poster child for the Old Boys Club is Ron Liepert. The non-PCs who voted for Alison Redford as an agent of change were convinced that Mr Liepert’s days were numbered. This belief was bolstered by Mr Liepert’s utterly inappropriate attack on Ms Redford’s promise to open a judicial inquiry into queue jumping. He made these comments before she was sworn in as his new boss, apparently unconcerned whether or not he’d land a Cabinet post. Specifically he said “I don’t support it, so I guess we’ll have that discussion. But even if that’s what is decided, I still won’t support it.” The concept of being a team player doesn’t appear to have crossed his mind.
Given that Ms Redford’s promise of a judicial inquiry was one of the few distinquishing features of the entire PC leadership race, Mr Liepert’s belief that he could “buck the boss” on the eve of her investiture was very disconcerting. Surely this was the last straw and Ms Redford would use the opportunity of naming her new Cabinet to ease Mr Liepert gently but firmly out the door.
Imagine our shock when we learned that instead of planning his retirement dinner, Mr Liepert would be trading offices with Mr Morton and, like the proverbial bad penny, was back in Cabinet as the Finance Minister!
So let’s stop for a moment and review the key players sitting around the Cabinet table.
Mr Morton’s appointment as Energy Minister is a good decision, one that is welcomed by the industry. Mr Morton has the education, skills and experience to represent Alberta’s energy interests on the federal, North American and global stage. Furthermore, Mr Morton recognizes that sustainability and conservation are inextricably linked to building support for the exploitation of energy resources which gives the environmentalists some hope.
Mr Liepert, on the other hand, comes to his new portfolio with a less than stellar track record. He’s a one note politician…and that note is centralize, centralize, centralize. As Health Minister he created the health superboard—a disastrous monolithic structure which has yet to deliver value. As Energy Minister he embarked on yet another centralization scheme, this time to rationalize the regulatory approval processes of the departments of Energy, Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
Eliminating overlapping regulation is a good thing, but remember, this drain on internal time and resources was occurring when oil and gas prices were tanking due to the global economic turmoil. Instead of focusing internally to “clean up” provincial regulations Mr Liepert should have been focusing externally, drumming up support for the national energy policy (which was spearheaded by industry not his department). He should have been helping industry executives press the federal government for explicit support of oil and gas projects that crossed into BC and the USA. Instead, Mr Liepert’s efforts to centralize regulations so alarmed the Feds that they increased their regulatory oversight of Alberta’s resources.
Hopefully Mr Liepert’s staff and Mr Horner, as President of the Treasury Board, will be able to drag Mr Liepert off the ledge before he jumps and takes the rest of us with him.
Mr Horne, the new minister of Health & Wellness, was parliamentary assistant to the smooth-talking Mr Zwozdesky. Mr Horne is the consummate politician, careful never to get caught in public on the wrong side of a difficult issue. He is adept at translating the “feedback” from Albertans concerned about healthcare into a power point presentation recommending the creation of a new Alberta Health Act and the overhaul of 5 additional pieces of legislation; all of which give private healthcare providers greater flexibility within the public healthcare system.
Also when it comes to reining in dissident voices in caucus, Mr Horne is not above making a few well placed phone calls to the president of the Alberta Medical Association and others, expressing “concern” about an MLA’s mental health.
Ms Diana McQueen, the new minister of Environment & Water, appears knowledgeable. Unfortunately she was parliamentary assistant to Mr Liepert when he ran Energy. She led his centralization project to align the regulatory framework governing Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development. Admittedly, Mr Liepert is no longer her boss, however a man that dares to criticize the premier-elect in public will think nothing of imposing his opinion on an ex-parliamentary assistant and fresh young cabinet minister like Ms McQueen.
In fact this is exactly the role that Ms Redford has outlined for Mr Liepert. Recall that when Ms Redford was asked why she included Mr Liepert in her new “changed” Cabinet she defended her choice by saying he’s a friend. “He will be a very important adviser to me personally, and to cabinet.”**
It all boils down to judgment. Was Ms Redford’s appointment of Mr Liepert a good decision? No. Does it demonstrate a commitment to change? No, and even she knows it. When the Ms Redford and her “new” cabinet posed for their first photo op she jokingly told Morton, Horner and Hancock “You guys weren’t supposed to stand right next to me”. Nice try, but I’m afraid that the only way to avoid the impression that the Cabinet is not just the “same old, same old”, is to step right out of the picture, not just move to the edge of the frame.
So having thrashed through all this with my non-PC friends we recognize that Ms Redford’s cabinet choices were designed to bolster internal PC party unity, not address what’s best for Alberta. Is there anything we can do about it? Sure. Stay involved. Be watchful. An election will be called within 9 months. If Ms Redford can’t lead her “new” Cabinet into the 21st century, don’t worry, we’ll have an opportunity to vote for a party that will.
*A machiavelian take on Mr Mar’s promotion to this newly-created position would be that he was banished to the Far East in an effort to keep a popular rival away from the seat of power—out of sight, out of mind.
**Calgary Herald, Oct 13, 2011, A3.