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 in a statement Friday a 27-member cabinet with 11 parliamentary secretaries for a total roster representing close to two-thirds of the entire governing United Conservative Party caucus.
Smith also reshuffled job responsibilities and created new ministry titles and portfolios. The new cabinet is scheduled to be sworn in on Monday.
Smith did not hold a news conference to answer questions from reporters Friday.
Some key ministers and responsibilities 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.
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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 United Conservative Party leadership race to replace 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 now 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 Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver.
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. Dreeshen resigned almost a year ago in a controversy over office drinking and accusations of misbehaviour. Dreeshen is the new minister of Transportation and Economic Corridors.
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 release.
“Alberta’s NDP is focused on addressing the real issues in Albertans’ lives like getting through the worst affordability crisis in 40 years, repairing our health-care system, and building a resilient jobs economy.”
‘Rewarding loyalty’: political scientists on supersized cabinet
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’s plain 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?”
Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt said he sees the cabinet appointments as an attempt at party unity and stability.
“The fact that almost all of the leadership candidates, with the exception of Leela Aheer, are in cabinet, I think is one attempt at unity and in particular, Travis Toews being reappointed to finance,” said Bratt.
“In some of the most important portfolios, there is stability,” he said, referring to Shandro, Copping and LaGrange remaining in justice, health and education, respectively.
He also thinks certain ministers were rewarded for their loyalty.
“A strong Smith supporter, Kaycee Madu, who initially supported Toews but then became one of the biggest cheerleaders for Smith, is now deputy premier in addition to his job in the renamed labour portfolio.
“Peter Guthrie, who was quite frankly a pain in the butt to Kenney, is in cabinet.”
“She’s rewarded loyalty.”
Bratt said he was suprised Shandro wasn’t punished for his role as the health minister during much of the COVID-19 pandemic, given Smith’s staunch anti-lockdown stance.
“I know in the justice portfolio, Smith really likes his fight against federal gun policy and his promotion of an Alberta police force. But given that the most dynamic feature of Smith’s campaign was going against COVID restrictions, how do you keep the former minister of health throughout much of that time period in cabinet?”
FULL CONVERSATION: Political science professor Duane Bratt on Premier Danielle Smith’s new cabinet
Smith’s full cabinet:
- Deputy Premier and Minister of Silled Trades and Professions – Kaycee Madu
- Deputy Premier and Minister of Infrastructure – Nathan Neudorf
- President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance – Travis Toews
- Minister of Jobs, Economy and Northern Development – Brian Jean
- Minister of Justice – Tyler Shandro
- Minister of Health – Jason Copping
- Minister of Energy – Pete Guthrie
- Minister of Environment and Protected Areas – Sonya Savage
- Minister of Technology and Innovation – Nate Glubish
- Minister of Affordability and Utilities – Matt Jones
- Minister of Municipal Affairs – Rebecca Schulz
- Minister of Transportation and Economic Corridors – Devin Dreeshen
- Minister of Public Safety – Mike Ellis
- Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation – Nate Horner
- Minister of Forestry, Parks and Tourism – Todd Loewen
- Minister of Trade, Immigration and Multiculturalism – Rajan Sawhney
- Minister of Education – Adriana LaGrange
- Minister of Advanced Education – Demetrios Nicolaides
- Minister of Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction – Dale Nally
- Minister of Indigenous Relations – Rick Wilson
- Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services – Jeremy Nixon
- Minister of Children’s Services – Mickey Amery
- Minister of Mental Health and Addictions – Nicholas Milliken
- Minister of Culture – Jason Luan