lberta Premier Jason Kenney announced several changes to his cabinet Thursday, including six new members.
The province said the changes were made to reflect the government’s renewed focus on its Alberta Recovery Plan, which is a strategy to build and diversify the economy while creating good jobs as the province emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Changes to the cabinet include:
- Rajan Sawhney, MLA for Calgary-North East becomes the minister of transportation
- Tanya Fir, MLA for Calgary-Peigan, becomes associate minister of red tape reduction
- Nate Horner, MLA for Drumheller-Stettler, becomes associate minister of rural economic development, under the ministry of jobs, economy and innovation
- Muhammad Yaseen, MLA for Calgary-North, becomes associate minister of immigration and multiculturalism, under the ministry of labour and immigration
- Whitney Issik, MLA for Calgary-Glenmore, becomes the associate minister of status of women, under the ministry of culture and status of women and the chief government whip
- Ron Orr, MLA for Lacombe-Ponoka, becomes the minister of culture
- Mike Ellis, MLA for Calgary-West and currently the chief government whip, becomes associate minister of mental health and addictions
- Jason Luan, MLA for Calgary-Foothills, becomes the minister of community and social services
The moves included booting high-profile critic Leela Aheer from the decision-making table.
Aheer was removed from her post as minister of culture, multiculturalism and the status of women. The member for Chestermere-Strathmore publicly criticized Kenney for breaking COVID-19 health rules by having a patio dinner outside his temporary penthouse office.
Kenney continually stressed Thursday’s shakeup was about an opportunity for renewal.
“This is not about that or any particular incident,” Kenney said when asked about the Aheer move specifically.
“Not everybody in caucus can serve in a ministerial role at the same time. I think it’s important that we have opportunities for renewal and that’s what today represents… From time to time there will be changes made to ministries.”
Kenney noted that there were members moved into cabinet Thursday who were publicly critical of the government’s COVID-19 response.
Horner and Orr were both among a group of UCP MLAs who publicly spoke out against public health restrictions.
“There are people standing behind me who were critical of the government publicly in its COVID response who are now newly in the ministry and serving in executive council,” Kenney said.
“I don’t see this, kind of, hierarchically… ministerial services are not the only form of public or government service and we’ve got a lot of private members serving the government in critical capacities.
“I always invite constructive criticism but at the end of the day, of course, we always have to work as a team to get the job done in a professional way.”
Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said the changes were not what people were expecting, “which was some sort of reset and preparation for the second half of the Kenney government’s mandate.”
“All the key players — Tyler Shandro, Travis Toews, Adriana LaGrange, Jason Nixon — they all remained in the same portfolios,” he said.
Bratt said the moves were more about rewarding members of his caucus that support him.
“Think this was really about repairing Kenney’s relationship with caucus and you do that in two ways: you reward people, you expand cabinet, you give people more jobs, more responsibilities, more money — so cabinet is bigger,” he said. “You promote people like Jason Luan or Mike Ellis.
“You also make a public example and punish someone like Leela Aheer.”
Bratt said while Kenney may say the move was about renewal, he believes it was made to send a message.
“She (Aheer) wasn’t involved in scandal, she wasn’t involved in controversy, there was no indication of underperformance — she’s a personable, empathetic, cultured woman who was very good in this role but said some things that embarrassed the premier, and she paid a price for that,” Bratt explained.
“He doesn’t need to tell the media why he’s doing this. Members of his caucus know why he’s doing this.”
Opposition Leader Rachel Notley criticized the shuffle as “the opposite of renewal” and more of a “moving around of deck chairs.”
“This shuffle is clearly an exercise in managing Jason Kenney’s internal UCP problems and it does nothing to address his serious failure to support Alberta families and businesses,” Notley said from Calgary Thursday afternoon.
The NDP leader pointed to the fact that all of the senior cabinet ministers remained in their positions.
“Jason Kenney failed to remove the ministers who are obviously failing in their roles. Tyler Shandro remains as health minister even while rural communities are desperately short of doctors and nurses,” she said.
“Adriana LaGrange also remains as education minister, despite her disastrous curriculum work.
“By failing to make any of the major changes that are so obviously needed, Jason Kenney has made it clear that the real problem with this government remains at the very top. The minister that really needs to be shuffled more than anyone is the premier.
“The record that Albertans have been subjected to over the past two years is a record that they will continue to be subjected to. There is no reason to believe that anything will change.”
When Kenney was asked why certain ministers, including Shandro and LaGrange remained in their roles, he said both ministers have his complete support.
“I am entrusted with appointing people to executive responsibilities based on their ability in a number of criteria. I think all of those ministers have done a fantastic job,” Kenney said. “This has been a challenging time.”
Speaking Friday at an announcement about increasing continuing care capacity in Alberta, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said it’s not his decision whether he serves in his ministerial role. He added that he has been incredibly proud to serve Albertans in this capacity for the last two years.
“This is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had — to be able to work to improve our EMS system, to improve our scheduled surgeries, to today’s announcement — to be able to work on something like this, to add new spaces, to improve our continuing care system throughout the province, I’m so proud to be in this role.”
The new members were sworn in to cabinet during a ceremony at Government House in Edmonton on Thursday morning.
“Alberta is leading Canada out of the COVID-19 pandemic and into strong economic growth,” Kenney said.
“With six new voices and strong, experienced ministers moving into important economic roles, Alberta’s government is ready to deliver a strong recovery for all Albertans.”
The premier also announced the appointment of Pam Livingstone as chief of staff. This means acting chief of staff Larry Kaumeyer returns to his previous role as principal secretary to the premier.
Kaumeyer was appointed interim chief of staff in early January after the premier’s previous chief of staff Jamie Huckabay was asked to step down after travelling abroad over Christmas despite advisories to avoid non-essential international travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other non-ministry changes announced Thursday include Joseph Schow, MLA for Cardston-Siksika being announced as deputy government house leader. Brad Rutherford, MLA for Leduc-Beaumont, becomes deputy government whip.
The last time Kenney shuffled his cabinet was in August 2020 when three moves were made.
With files from The Canadian Press.