Alison’s Cabinet

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. 

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18 Responses to Alison’s Cabinet

  1. Roy Wright says:

    I was initially relieved and excited that Alison Redford won the leadership race, as she appeared to bring a fresh approach to governing our province. However, over the last two weeks, I too, have been rapidly losing my enthusiasm for all the anticipated changes. So, thanks for capturing all of my angst regarding the “new look” Progressive Conservatives. Premier Redford was very brave during the leadership race and outlined some radical positions, at least for the old timers. However, now ensconced in power, it seems like she has hidden her outsider mask and has become one of “them”. I understand there must be lots of machinations involved in moving the party forward, including the typical trade-offs and smoothing of feathers, but, really! Where is my Alison…has she been abducted by a PC Alien?

    Your concluding comment gives me hope. We all must keep an eye on how things evolve (or don’t) and when the next election arrives, we can decide whether or not the Progressive Conservatives are capable of governing our province.

    • Roy: one of Alison Redford’s volunteers told me that people should remember that Alison is a PC through and through. Of course we knew that but her policies appeared to be at the “progressive” end of the PC spectrum and that’s why we voted for her. We wanted a premier who wouldn’t destroy the province while the other political parties regrouped. We were terribly disappointed with her cabinet choices. They signal that regardless of her own beliefs she needs to appease the Old Boys or risk losing the leadership. Given that the only way to implement her “progressive” policies is through Cabinet support and Cabinet is populated with so many Old Boys, this doesn’t bode well for the future. Thank you for your comments and your sense of humour in the face of this unsettling turn of events!

  2. Jane Walker says:

    Thanks so much, Susan, for capturing so well my own misgivings about the performance of our premier since coming into office …. Roy Wright has expressed my concerns well. I wonder how Alison Redford’s progressive promoters are ‘reading’ these moves.

    Neither you nor the first commenter, Roy, mentioned Ted Morton’s lifelong American roots and continuing USA connections. Fundamental to who he is and coupled with his hard right philosophy, USA orientation must be a major concern for Albertans. We should be looking for a consummate Canadian to take on such an important portfolio as Alberta’s energy …. in my opinion!

    • Jane, insightful comment. I’d forgotten about Ted Morton’s American roots, he’s done such a good job of underplaying this aspect of his persona. You raise a valid point when you mention his USA orientation. This is particularly worrying now that the USA is mired in economic and social strife which show no signs of abating. I think that Morton is a smart and capable man. He will be guided by smart and capable men in the energy industry as he moves ahead. We will have to be vigilant to ensure that the Alberta’s future is not compromised by Ted’s desire to satisfy the industry’s short term business objectives (like boosting share prices) which generally pay off in the form of PC party support. .

  3. Rose Marie MacKenzie-Kirkwood says:

    It’s sad to see that somethings have not progressed any further than high school. Guess why I was on the “typing committee” of the annual, well, it is for the same reason I was not on the cheerleading squad. I was not part of the “in crowd”.

    Once again, we must be alert, patient and wait. It is really amazing how important the “typing committee” was to the construction of the annual despite the fact that no one knew who I was. We are still all here, waiting for the right moment to be important. Every vote counts, especially the people no one knows about.

    • Rose, you said something very telling when you said “Every vote counts, especially the people no one knows about”. That’s where I think Alison Redford’s decision to appoint the Old Boys to the Cabinet will back-fire. She appeased the Old Boys (at least temporarily) but missed a huge opportunity to broaden the PC membership base. If she selected a Cabinet which better represented the values she appeared to stand for when she was running for premier she would have had a chance to truly change that party. But she took the safe route and re-appointed the same old politicians (and their parliamentary assistants) who got Alberta into this jam in the first place. Very discouraging.

      Thanks for your note Rose.

  4. Elaine Fleming, Whitemud Citizens for Public Health says:

    You wrote a great analysis of the “new” Redford cabinet, Susan.

    There has been a change in Premier, as we all knew would come to pass, but Redford got the top job instead of Mar which was a surprise, probably even to her. The lesser portfolios were probably jigged around more than if Mar were Premier, but you are right… the same people are in the top Cabinet positions as before, and would probably be there with Mar at the helm as well. The exception being the Health portfolio where Horne slid in to take the Zwoz’ place. This gives us great consternation, as Fred Horne steered the MACH (Minister’s Advisory Committee on Health) that came up with The Alberta Health Act as well as the citizens’ so-called “consultations” on this legislation that is intended to open the door to more privatization of the health system.

    On the upside, these latest manoeuvres should give the opposition parties and advocacy groups plenty of ammo leading up to the Provincial Election.

    • Elaine, I understand that Whitemud Citizens for Public Health met with Horne to review concerns about the direction that the PCs were taking with respect to healthcare. The fact that you’ve expressed misgivings about Horne’s appointment confirms the need to stay on top of healthcare issues, notwithstanding Redford’s promise to support public healthcare.

      I like the fact that you included advocacy groups as a force to be reckoned with in the next election. Advocacy groups can be extremely effective in raising public awareness. Just tell me where and when and I’ll grab my little beret and meet you there. Thanks for your comments!

  5. Carlos Beca says:

    I too was disapointed with the choices but not surprised. This seems to be the ‘New Politics’. You say whatever ‘the people’ want to hear and once you get in, you do what your ideology tells you to do. Obama is just the last example but not the only one. Yes this has always been the case but not to the extent that is now.

    Choosing Liepert for Finances to me is absolutely pathetic. This man has made every ministry he managed a true fiasco. As an Albertan I really have had enough of financial fiascos in this province. Alison Redford in my opinion is affraid of there bullies and did not have the courage to get rid of them.

    I enjoyed very much reading your analysis and like Jane I have to disagree with your assessment on Morton. This man has shown to me his true love for unregulation to the extreme. He his a weapons lover and of the freedom to use them as one see fit. He also seems to be the perfect fit for the Oil companies and I am sure royalties are going further down.

    I was not expecting much from anyone in the PCs but I thought that with Alison Redford we would breath easy for 4 years and not expect that suddenly we have no Health Care …etc. I am not so sure about that anymore with Horne at the helm. He was totally embeded in the privatization mind set. Unless of course, because he was a consultant he just suddenly became a warrior for the public system because the money is on that side now. Well this assuming that Alison did not lie about it as well.

    This system is as rotten as it can be and it amazes me that experts and journalists continue asking the silly question ‘How are we going to engage Canadians and especially young people?’ – my goodness who wants to be part of this fraud? How can any good citizen be interested in this charade?

    I made a better choice and saturday I went to Ocuppy Edmonton. Had a lot of fun and heard much better messages and much more real life discussions while talking to people around and friends that met there. At least these people try to make the system better rather than prologing the shelf life of a rotten process. At least a lot of these people understand what real democracy means be it social/political or economic. Also Edmonton Police had the good sense of not treating us like savages. It was refreshing indeed. By the way before someone writes a reply to this post calling me a bum and that I should get a job, like I have seen in other blogs I have to clarify that I have a job and have had one for 36 years.

    I do not believe in this system anymore and I do believe that the same way that suddenly many things not anticipated have happened in the last 10 years, a Western World Spring is around the corner. Just by looking at the state of our democracy it is impossible not too. Just this week the Defence Minister in Britain was caught in a ‘in bed’ situation with the arms business interests. It is day after day of these absurd events. In Italy for example, Berlusconi, the biggest John in the country promised to be very tough on the people that caused distubances in the protests yesterday. Another clear example of double standards.

    In Canada our great prime minister, who is cutting budgets and will cut even more as soon as the second recession hits harder is now spending 9 billion in jet planes, 35 billion in new ships for the navy, donated another 10 million dollars to Libya and the tab in Afghanistan is already passed the 20 billion. Once we leave and the Taliban comes back all that was built will be destroyed including whatever they were able to build in social terms. This of course is what is called a fiscal conservatism. Of course we are making sure we give the women there the means to escape the slavery they live under! In the meantime 500 native women have disappeared in Canada, probably raped and murdered and the government does absolutely nothing or very little.

    Anyway the next Alberta election became more important again although I doubt much will change.

    • Carlos: you’ve touched on many important issues in your comments, far more than I can respond to in a reply, so I’ll focus on just one–the resurgence of grassroots activism. Today’s Herald carried a photo of the Occupy Calgary demonstration in front of Bankers Hall. It showed people of all ages demonstrating peacefully. The Calgary police, like the Edmonton police, chose to let the demonstration proceed without interference, which was very wise. I don’t understand all of the issues the demonstrators are concerned about, but the fact that these demonstrations are happening all over the US and Canada indicates that something is amiss and needs to be addressed. I’m not sure how all this will turn out but these types of spontaneous public outcries cannot be ignored.

      PS. I can guarantee that no one will be making derogatory remarks about anyone on the soapbox. That’s not how we do it here. Thanks for broadening the conversation, Carlos.

  6. Carol Wodak says:

    The more things change… it’s hard to be hopeful. One “change” which has not been addressed is the Seniors’ portfolio. I’m waiting for the mandate letters, which may shed some light on this.
    Over the last 30 or 40 years, ministry responsibility for seniors has been an orphan; no one seems to know what to do with it, or what it should do.
    Way back when, eldercare was a Hospitals and Medical Care responsibility (with seniors’ lodges tacked on as “subsidized housing”, under the auspices of the Department of Public Welfare, later called the Department of Social Development, then the Alberta Hospitals Commission and subsequently to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. Then it was all punted to a Seniors’ Ministry in 1991 (all but nursing homes/auxiliary hospitals, which were merged, remained under Health and a Long Term Care branch, which vanished shortly after.) Alberta Health emerged in1988 from the Department of Community, Occupation Health and the Department of Hospitals and Medical Care, renamed Health & Wellness in 1999.
    Then we had the Regional Health Authorities being given some responsibility (under the supervision of Health and Wellness), with Seniors and Community Supports overseeing oversight and benefits for the needy, Infrastructure and Municipal Affairs for capital funding under the control of Finance. Gradually Seniors and Community Supports picked up seniors’ and other special purpose social housing, and (theoretically at least) policy development for housing, seniors, and Alberta’s aging population. Infrastructure retained responsibility for the infrastructure, and Finance set budgets and controlled the accommodation fee revenue.
    Lately, we’ve seen escalating turf wars over “seniors’ issues” between Health and Wellness, Housing, Infrastructure, Seniors and Community Supports, Municipal Affairs, and the Alberta Health Services. We never know who is going to produce the next News Release, or announce funding for “continuing care” (which now includes all social housing) or changes in accommodation fees or home care, or tell us we need private pension plans.
    So maybe Ms. Redford, with the assistance of the ever-willing Mr. Hancock, can sort this out. But I’d like to know how…
    Meanwhile, Mr. VanderBurg (he of the Demographic Planning Commission and the Seniors Advisory Council on Aging, neither of which has done anything useful, is the new Minister of Seniors. He is memorable in my experience for musing about the value of shifting eligibility assessments for Seniors’ Benefits from income testing to asset testing, and for rea ssuring us that the average pre-tax senior family income was $56,000 disregarding the fact that more than half of Alberta seniors, whether single or a couple, have a total income under $24,000.
    I wonder what else he’ll do?
    And who might be “consulted” about what needs to be done?

    • Oh Carol, this doesn’t bode well at all. I re-read your comment and tried to draw a diagram of how the responsibility for this vital portfolio moved over time. It turned into a knotted mess because bits continued to be hived off and then added back in again and then shoved off under another ministry. No wonder so many seniors have given up. And now they have Minister VanderBurg to look after their interests…a man who is completely out of touch with the economic reality facing seniors.

      Thank you for your comments. They were enlightening.

  7. Carlos Beca says:

    Susan thank you for your comments.
    The reasons people are protesting are very clear and easy to support. There are dozens of articles everywhere.
    Here is a video for those that care about reality instead of appearances and propaganda.

  8. Carlos Beca says:

    I went back and read your post and I have to confess that this sentence
    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.

    has been in my mind. I am sure you formed this opinion for good reasons. May I kindly ask why you would think this about Morton? Is there anything I am just very ignorant about this man’s visions and accomplishments?

    • Carlos, this sentence was based on a story by Nathan Vanderklippe which appeared in the Globe and Mail on Oct 13. The reporter said that in the past Mr Morton was against the Kyoto Protocol (not good), but recently he’s made public statements in support of conservation. Mr Morton appears to have made the connection between the need for the oil sands to reduce pollution in order to continue growth. The article quotes Mr Morton as saying “How quickly production ramps up…will be a function of how good a job we do on dealing with tailing ponds, air, water and caribou issues”.

      Ed Whittingham, executive director of the Pembina Institute, the Calgary environmental lobby group, is quoted as saying: “It does strike me as a unique tone coming from a provincial cabinet minister…When I hear that, I’m hearing someone who understands…that there are environmental thresholds in the oil sands.” I took Mr Whittingham’s comment as indicating “some hope” on the part of the environmentalists.

      Like Mr Whittingham, I’m clinging to that hope.

  9. Carlos Beca says:

    Thank you Susan. I have to confess I had not read this about Mr Morton and I do not doubt it but it is certainly hard to believe. We just have to wait and see. Unfortunately we do not have much time for experiments. We have had years to incorporate sound environmental practices in our lives and we choose not to bother. I believe that we are reaching a point where we have to live with the consequences. Interestingly enough, I noticed on the Friday newspaper that a documentary about Mr. Wiebo Ludwig is showing in Edmonton. The more I know about this story the more I think that this man was pushed against the wall to the point of almost madness by companies with their minds set on profit and a society that vilified anyone that had any concerns for the environment and the health safety of their families.

  10. I think you’re right…we may be running out of time. We have to find the right balance, we can’t just use up our resources to support our very nice lifestyles and do irreparable harm to the environment at the same time. Thanks Carlos.

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