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Smith Hires MLA Who Quit to Give Her a Safe Seat

Michaela Frey joins former campaign manager Matthew Altheim as a paid advisor.

Charles Rusnell 29 Nov 2022TheTyee.ca

Charles Rusnell is an independent investigative reporter based in Edmonton.

Less than two months after Danielle Smith was elected Alberta premier, she has hired the former MLA who stepped aside to allow her to run in a byelection and gain a seat in the legislature, The Tyee has confirmed.

Smith recently hired former Brooks-Medicine Hat MLA Michaela Frey as a policy advisor, a senior government official confirmed. Two sources confirmed she has an office near Marshall Smith, the premier’s chief of staff, and was in the office this week.

The senior government official also confirmed Smith’s campaign manager, Matthew Altheim, has been given a sole-source contract to provide advice.

Both Smith’s office and Frey did not respond to an interview request from The Tyee. Altheim could not be reached for comment.

Frey’s hiring raises the question of whether the Smith government had offered her a job before her resignation.

It is not known how much Frey and Altheim are being paid or when exactly they began work for the government. It’s also not known if their hiring was vetted by Alberta’s ethics commissioner.

First elected in 2019, Frey publicly announced she would not seek re-election on Sept. 26.

Weeks before that, Smith was already the frontrunner of the UCP leadership race and expected to win handily.

On election night however, it took six ballots before Smith won the leadership with 54 per cent support.

The next day, on Oct. 7, Frey released a statement announcing she had formally submitted her resignation letter.

“It is my dear hope that premier-elect Danielle Smith chooses to run in Brooks-Medicine Hat,” Frey wrote. “Danielle has won the leadership of our party, building a broad coalition of Albertans and garnering support across the province — I hope that she will be able to count on your support as well.

“While this chapter of my life may be coming to a close, I am eagerly awaiting what comes next,” she continued, adding she was looking forward to “exploring opportunities to further serve my community outside of elected office.”

Smith made the controversial decision to call a byelection in the Brooks-Medicine Hat riding but not in Calgary-Elbow. That riding was left vacant in August when former UCP MLA Doug Schweitzer, the minister of jobs, economy and innovation, quit to take a job with Deloitte, the national accounting firm.

On Oct. 8, Smith announced she would run in Brooks-Medicine Hat.

Smith easily won the byelection.

For years, Smith has marketed herself as a champion of small governments and free markets. But after being elected premier, she formed a cabinet larger than her predecessor, Jason Kenney, and twice the size of the original cabinet created by former NDP premier Rachel Notley. Smith dismissed criticism of her cabinet size, saying more ministers were needed to diversify the economy and find cost savings.

The senior government official said Frey, previously known by her maiden name Michaela Glasgo, did not advance any policy initiatives of note during her single term as a backbench MLA. She had previously worked in the office of the riding’s former MLA.

During the 2019 election campaign however, Frey made headlines when she claimed her Medicine Hat church was asking for help to pay a $50,000 carbon tax bill and blamed the NDP government of Rachel Notley, which had implemented the tax.

“That’s the cost of one less pastor for the sick and suffering and less help for those who need it most in our community,” Frey tweeted on Jan. 27, 2019.

Frey was forced to backtrack after calculations that showed if the church’s heating bill was $50,000 it would be burning enough gas to heat 244 homes.

It was later disclosed the church’s carbon tax bill was $5,400.

If you have information for this story, or information for another story, please contact me in confidence via email.  [Tyee]

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