Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced a number of changes to his cabinet on Tuesday.
Kenney said the moves were made to ensure Alberta has “the right people in the right place” as the province recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All three of these people have proven themselves both in caucus and cabinet to be people of extraordinary talent. When you’re in my position, you have to choose people for the right job at the right time,” the premier said.
Former Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu was sworn in as Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, a portfolio formerly held by Doug Schweitzer.
Kenney said one of Madu’s biggest responsibilities will be to oversee the completion of the statutory review of the Police Act “at a time when we are all rightfully more sensitive to the reality of racial prejudice.”
Kenney praised Madu, who grew up in Nigeria, for overcoming “enormous odds” to gain his law degree and come to Canada.
“I think it’s a powerful statement that Alberta will have the first-ever Canadian justice minister of African origin, first Black Canadian justice minister, attorney general or solicitor general, who is a man who has experienced racial prejudice firsthand and can bring that sensitivity to this important role.”
Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt said this should be seen as a “big promotion” for Madu.
“Particularly when we’re dealing with the lawsuits against the federal government, some of the rural crime agenda. Madu has got a big job ahead of him,” Bratt said.
Moving out of Justice and Solicitor General, Schweitzer was sworn into a newly named ministry — Jobs, Economy and Innovation.
“Doug has done a great job at justice, leading important reforms,” Kenney said. “I’m confident he will bring the same passion and professionalism to his important new responsibilities.”
Among those responsibilities are helping with the implementation of the province’s Economic Recovery Plan, launching the Invest Alberta Agency and implementing the Innovation Employment Grant, Kenney explained.
Bratt said Tuesday’s shifts showcase the province’s focus on the economy.
“The number one takeaway is really elevating the issue of the economy,” he said.
“Premier Kenney talked about just the deterioration of the economy that there’s going to be a fiscal update… that shows a massive deficit,” Bratt continued. “Putting Doug Schweitzer in charge, I think, is trying to really emphasize that economic portfolio.”
This newly named ministry effectively takes over the Economic Development, Trade and Tourism portfolio, which was previously held by MLA Tanya Fir.
“This is a broadened and expanded ministry,” Kenney said. “I want to thank Tanya for her good work, she’s a very talented MLA. I appreciate her service. From time to time inevitably there are going to be changes in the lineup and responsibilities in cabinet as you try to get exactly the right people in the right spots at the right time and that’s what today is about.”
Taking the place of Madu at the helm of Municipal Affairs is Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard.
“Tracy has a lifetime of real-world business experience,” Kenney said. “She and her husband and their family businesses have created literally hundreds of jobs. Tracy really personifies the entrepreneurial culture of Alberta and she will bring even more practical small- and medium-sized business experience to the cabinet table.
Kenney said he will ask Allard to publish a fiscal report card on the fiscal performance of municipalities across Alberta and to compare those fiscal performances to those of municipalities in other parts of the country.
“Tracy will be challenging municipal governments across Alberta to work with us on creating jobs and growth to recover from the COVID catastrophe,” Kenney said.
“It is critical that our municipal governments stop raising taxes, stop adding red tape that inhibits job creation and focus with Alberta’s government on the overriding goal of economic growth, of job creation, of diversification and of competitiveness.”
No moves made in Ministry of Health
The premier was asked by reporters why he didn’t make a move within the Ministry of Health, a portfolio currently held by Tyler Shandro.
Shandro has faced criticism by both Alberta physicians and the Opposition NDP in recent months over his negotiations with doctors in the province, which developed after Shandro ripped up their master pay agreement.
“In terms on Minister Shandro, he has my 100 per cent confidence. He has done, in my view, a phenomenal job under the most trying circumstances,” Kenney said, touting the province’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Every minister of health takes on a tough challenge given that it’s nearly half of the provincial government’s budget and Tyler has done what he has to do to stop the out-of-control increase in physician compensation costs, offering to negotiate an agreement with the AMA (Alberta Medical Association), which they rejected because they refuse to accept an overall freeze on physician compensation.”
Kenney said if the province doesn’t bring in “reasonable control” over physician compensation, Alberta will see continued increases of about six per cent per year.
“It’s never easy to say no. It’s always tough and I support that kind of tough leadership that Minister Shandro has had to give in order to ensure that we can afford the best quality health care in the future.”