EDMONTON – Alberta Premier Alison Redford has shuffled out two of her ministers and reduced her cabinet by one.
Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk will take on additional responsibilities as Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education.
He replaces St. Albert member of the legislature Stephen Khan in that portfolio.
“It’s like picking special teams for a football team,” said Lukaszuk Monday. “You pick individuals that you think are in position to best deliver for the province, and that’s the decision she made. Mr. Khan has been working very hard and will continue to work very hard within our caucus.”
Lukaszuk joked that he was planning on moving his bed into his office now that he’s taking on an additional role.
“I’m very honoured the premier has added to my list of responsibilities, now the portfolio of Enterprise and Advanced Education… Looking forward to fulfilling those duties,” he added.
“It definitely elevates the premier’s view of that particular file, which speaks in the large extent, to economic development and the current financial situation.”
Richard Starke, who was elected in the Vermilion-Lloydminster riding last spring, takes over the tourism portfolio from Christine Cusanelli.
Cusanelli came under fire last year for mishandling her personal expenses when she billed taxpayers to fly her, her mother and daughter to the London Olympics.
Redford says in the release that she is reducing her cabinet in light of falling resource revenues that are expected to result in a $6 billion shortfall in the March budget.
“Recognizing the impact of falling resource revenues on our bottom line, my government will lead by example with a smaller, more focused cabinet,” said Premier Redford in a news release.
The cabinet will be one member smaller, but political scientists say the move won’t have a large economic impact.
“No, this isn’t a major cost savings,” says Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal College. “You’re basically looking at saving the salary of one cabinet minister. It’s not like they’re collapsing or amalgamating departments. If they were doing that, there would be significant cost savings.”
“Really, they’re making a change of maybe $30,000 and a salary, maybe a couple ten or twenty thousand dollars more in various expenses. It might send a more symbolic measure about a tighter cabinet, a leaner cabinet, but really it’s not a big savings.”
However, the PCs argue this decision will result in definite savings.
“It is a belt-tightening because you have one fewer ministers sitting around the cabinet table,” stresses Lukaszuk. “At the end of the day, there will be efficiencies overall for the government of Alberta. I will be able to manage the third largest portfolio while keeping the role of Deputy Premier.”
“It sends a clear message,” he adds. “We are tightening our belts.”
The opposition says the cabinet changes indicate the premier is in hot water.
“The premier is on the ropes,” says Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw, “but this is merely a cosmetic change that will do nothing to solve the existing problems; the budget crisis or the ethical scandals. We would have hoped that they would have actually made some substantive changes, but this is another example of how this premier is in some serious trouble.”
Bratt says it foreshadows a tough budget ahead.
“I think this is definitely tied to the budget,” he explains. “They’re messaging and preparing for a tough budget. What impact this had on program cuts within Tourism, program cuts within Advanced Education, we’ll have to wait and see.”
Tuesday afternoon, Global News obtained a copy of the email from Stephen Khan to all Enterprise and Advanced Education Ministry staff:
“To All EAE Staff:
Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when it comes to saying goodbye to such an incredible group of people at Enterprise and Advanced Education.
I am truly honoured that I had the privilege and opportunity to work with such a professional and talented team. We should be proud that we’ve created a new ministry within such a short time, and one that provides a strong foundation for positive, transformative change for stakeholders. I enjoyed my time at the helm of such a dynamic ministry that is providing Albertans with the tools they need to succeed and play a role in our economy.
I sincerely thank all of you for your support, hard work and humor during my time at EAE. I freely admit that I will miss all those Star Trek jokes. I’d like to also thank my own office staff for their unwavering support, and my family for the sacrifices that they’ve made along this journey.
I have never been one to shy away from the challenge of a new beginning. With that in mind, I am looking forward to starting a new phase in my political career.
I am confident that Deputy Premier Lukaszuk, Deputy Minister Morhart, and his ADMS will continue to build on this ministry’s achievements and work hard to make Alberta more competitive on the world stage.