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Alberta Premier Smith's new cabinet includes familiar faces in prominent roles

EDMONTON — Premier Danielle Smith reorganized the top tier of the Alberta government Friday, keeping some stalwarts while mixing, matching, creating and erasing job titles across a range of ministries in a new supersized cabinet.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith holds her first press conference in Edmonton, on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. Smith has revealed her new cabinet. It includes some ministers staying in high-profile roles: Travis Toews in finance, Jason Copping in health, Adriana LaGrange in education and Tyler Shandro in justice. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

EDMONTON — Premier Danielle Smith reorganized the top tier of the Alberta government Friday, keeping some stalwarts while mixing, matching, creating and erasing job titles across a range of ministries in a new supersized cabinet.

Smith announced a 27-member cabinet supported by 11 parliamentary secretaries for a total roster representing close to two-thirds of the entire governing United Conservative Party caucus.

“People are going to be able to see some boldness (with the cabinet), but also some of the stability that they’ve been looking for,” Smith said in an interview on the Western Standard news website. Smith did not hold a news conference to answer questions from other reporters.

The new cabinet is to be sworn in Monday.

Some key ministers will stay in place, including Jason Copping (Health), Tyler Shandro (Justice), Adriana LaGrange (Education), Demetrios Nicolaides (Advanced Education) and Rick Wilson (Indigenous Relations).

Copping is tasked with leading a shakeup of Alberta’s health system in the next 90 days to replace the decision-makers in a system Smith blames for failing Albertans with long wait times and crowded hospitals during the pandemic.

Kaycee Madu, a Smith supporter during the leadership campaign, leaves the Labour and Immigration portfolio to become one of two deputy premiers while heading up a new office titled Skilled Trades and Professions.

Madu has been a controversial figure, leaving the Justice job in February after a third-party report concluded he tried to interfere in the administration of justice by calling up Edmonton’s police chief over a traffic ticket he had received.

Backbencher Nathan Neudorf will be the other deputy premier along with holding the Infrastructure job.

Smith defeated six rivals earlier this month in the leadership race to replace Jason Kenney as party leader and premier.

All but one of the six have a place at Smith’s cabinet table.

Travis Toews returns to his old job as finance minister — a job he quit to avoid a conflict of interest while running for the top job.

Rebecca Schulz will run Municipal Affairs. Brian Jean takes on duties in a renamed department titled Jobs, Economy and Northern Development, while Rajan Sawhney will run the newly renamed Ministry of Trade, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

Todd Loewen, a staunch Kenney critic who ran against Smith in the leadership race but often echoed her policy ideas, will head up a new department titled Forestry, Parks and Tourism. 

The only leadership candidate who is not in cabinet is Leela Aheer, who was sharply critical of Smith’s campaign policies and clashed with her during leadership debates.

Jason Nixon — Kenney’s key lieutenant as government house leader, environment minister and finance minister — is also out, as is Ric McIver as municipal affairs minister.

Smith didn’t answer specifically why Nixon was out, but said “there are a number of cabinet ministers who seem to really be the hand of the former premier on a lot of files that caused our party a lot of problems."

However, she added: “If people are out, they’re not out forever."

Some, but not all, of Smith’s campaign supporters are now at the cabinet table, led by Peter Guthrie, a sharp Kenney critic who vaulted from the backbench to the Energy portfolio. 

Among other supporters, Mike Ellis will head up a new portfolio called Public Safety and Nate Glubish will be minister of a renamed department called Technology and Innovation.

Smith supporter Devin Dreeshen is back in cabinet after resigning almost a year ago in a controversy over office drinking and accusations of misbehaviour. Dreeshen is the new minister of Transportation and Economic Corridors.

“I know Devin had stepped back because he was dealing with some personal issues — and we are a caucus that allows people to be able to take a little bit of a break if they need to be able to deal with some of those personal issues,” said Smith.

Sonya Savage, the energy minister from Day 1 in the Kenney government, is now responsible for the renamed Environment and Protected Areas.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the cabinet changes will mean very little to Albertans, both urban and rural. 

"The UCP has inflicted chaos, conflict and costs onto families and businesses, and nothing in this cabinet suggests any change from that," she said in a news release. 

Political scientists said Smith’s cabinet, with an election in the spring, is weighted heavily toward politics at the expense of policy, as she tries to keep critics happy inside the cabinet tent while raising the profile of as many candidates as possible.

Jared Wesley, with the University of Alberta, said with 27 cabinet ministers supported by 11 parliamentary secretaries, there will be overlap and confusion on who makes decisions.

“It’s honestly a mess,” said Wesley. “It’s going to create massive headaches for folks that want to try to engage with this government.”

Wesley and Lori Williams, with Mount Royal University, also said gender didn’t seem to be a priority, with just five women around the cabinet table. Also, the associate ministry for Status of Women has also been reduced to a parliamentary secretary position.

"It’splain she’s getting rid of the Kenney stamp,” but the sheer numbers are unworkable, Williams said, 

“It’s nuts. With that many people in cabinet, is it even going to mean anything?”

Duane Bratt, with Mount Royal University, said cabinet was constructed to reward those who supported Smith while keeping a fragile caucus from splintering again.

“She’s rewarded loyalty,” Bratt said.

 This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 21, 2022. 

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press