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Danielle Smith’s Alarming New Cabinet

An anti-abortion advocate in health, rival Brian Jean to energy and no labour minister.

David Climenhaga 12 Jun 2023Alberta Politics

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at Follow him on Twitter at @djclimenhaga.

Premier Danielle Smith has named her cabinet, and the internet and airwaves are naturally soon be rife with quick speculation about What It All Means.

This is normally a fool’s errand, since, generally speaking, it takes time to predict how new ministers will perform or what their appointments might mean.

So, for the moment, I will offer up my hot takes on a few of the names on the cabinet list now and more reasoned commentary later.

Danielle Smith is, of course, the premier, but she has also named herself minister of intergovernmental relations. This suggests that as far as Smith is concerned, her fight with Ottawa remains the government’s most important file, no matter what she promised during the election, and one that requires her daily attention. This indicates separatist fantasies still burn bright in the bosom of the United Conservative Party. This does not bode well for Canada or Alberta.

Adriana LaGrange, minister of health. Unlike Smith’s separatist hobbyhorse, right now health is probably the most important portfolio in any Canadian government. The appointment of one of the UCP’s weakest and worst performing ministers, seemingly without an idea of her own other than her opposition to abortion rights, is a dire sign of what may be coming.

It seems quite possible the department will now be run by privatization lobbyists while LaGrange reads from her script, as she did in education, except on the topic of reproductive rights. The Alberta Teachers' Association, at least, will be delighted to see the last of LaGrange, and probably pleased to find Demetrios Nicolaides in her old job as education minister on the theory anything is better than the baleful combination of former premier Jason Kenney, a pedagogical crank, and LaGrange in the role of his stooge.

Rajan Sawhney, minister of advanced education. Well, if nothing else, Sawhney’s appointment shows it pays to have run for the leadership of the UCP. She’ll probably do less harm in the portfolio than Nicolaides did. Watch to see what she does with Athabasca University for a hint of how independent she really is.

Nate Horner, finance minister. Well, it’s always nice to have a Horner back in cabinet — unless he’s in a Trudeau cabinet, of course. The Horner political clan is sort of a down home Alberta version of the Kennedys, only less successful. Sooner or later, someone is going to tout Horner as a potential Alberta premier, so I might as well do it right now.

Brian Jean, minister of energy and minerals. Smith has followed the folk wisdom to keep her friends close and her enemies in cabinet. Energy is important enough to keep Jean out of mischief for the time being. It will be fine with Smith, I’m sure, if he has to take the heat for implementing the scandalous RStar scam to reward oil companies for not cleaning up their abandoned wells. If it gets too heated, Jean may decide to quit again and go back to Fort McMurray or one of his foreign abodes.

Dan Williams, minister of mental health and addiction. Another dire sign, if you ask me, and a payoff to the UCP’s Prolife Alberta auxiliary and the premier’s friends at Take Back Alberta. Well, at least the youthful anti-abortion activist wasn’t made the health minister… yet. But the former Kenney aide’s resumé is hardly reassuring to anyone concerned about protecting the lives of Albertans from drug poisonings.

Devin Dreeshen, minister of transportation and economic corridors. The name of the ministry implies more separatist pish-posh, of course. The name of the minister means Dreeshen has been completely forgiven for the disgraceful goings on in his office, as if he were ever really condemned for them, in 2020 and 2021. One wonders whatever happened to the lawsuit by Ariella Kimmel alleging she was fired for trying to stop sexual harassment of employees and heavy drinking in legislature offices. Settled with a non-disclosure agreement, one imagines. Shields up!

Jason Nixon, minister of seniors, community and social services. Wasn’t his brother Jeremy, at the moment between jobs, just doing that job? Jason Nixon, of course, is a former finance minister, and was not so long ago a harsh critic of Smith. But he can’t be defeated in his Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre riding, apparently, even if Smith’s Take Back Alberta allies don’t like him. So this portfolio isn’t exactly a reward, but it puts him where Smith can keep an eye on him.

Important omission — there is no minister of labour. Whatever could that mean?

OK, those are some of the highlights.

Amusingly, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation complained that at 25 members, Smith’s cabinet is too big — it’s the cost, of course. “Albertans don’t need a big cabinet to run things out of Edmonton,” whinged a CTF spokesperson. “Smith should have followed in the footsteps of former premier Ralph Klein and cut the size of cabinet when first elected as premier.”

Oddly, though, for some reason the supposedly non-partisan CTF didn’t mention Opposition Leader Rachel Notley’s minuscule 12-member cabinet when she was sworn in as premier in 2015. Wouldn’t that be a better, fresher example?  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Alberta

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