In a pragmatic move, Premier Rachel Notley appoints former Tory minister from Calgary to infrastructure portfolio

Posted on October 18, 2017, 2:04 am
7 mins

PHOTOS: Newly appointed NDP Infrastructure Minister Sandra Jansen speaks during yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony at Government House in Edmonton. With her are new Parliamentary Secretaries Jessica Littlewood and Annie McKitrick, left and right, and Premier Rachel Notley (Photo: Government of Alberta). Below: Pierre Trudeau and Peter Lougheed, looking pretty friendly for all the hype, and UCP MLA Leela Aheer.

While tout le monde political Alberta was focusing on the province-wide municipal elections Monday, no one noticed NDP Premier Rachel Notley was busy cooking up a small cabinet shuffle.

Actually, shuffle is too grand a word. What got announced by the premier yesterday was too small for that, although quite significant just the same.

It was a cabinet enhancement, the addition of a single new minister – importantly, Calgary-North West MLA and former Progressive Conservative cabinet member Sandra Jansen to the infrastructure portfolio – plus two parliamentary secretaries.

It was interesting and probably meaningful that the premier made the announcement there would be a new minister of building expensive stuff in the hours after progressively inclined Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi fought off an effort to topple him by a collection of operators associated with both the Manning Centre and the increasingly Wildrose-like United Conservative Party.

As the provincial election expected in 2019 begins to appear over the horizon, everyone understands that the key battleground will be Calgary – traditionally thought of as a conservative constituency but, as recent events have shown, maybe not.

NDP strategists obviously realize that most of rural Alberta is likely lost to them now, and barring a polling catastrophe, the Edmonton region remains their stronghold – so their ability to hang onto government in 2019 depends on whether they can hold seats in Calgary.

So giving a portfolio to a former cabinet minister from the progressive wing of the old PC party, who not so long ago was campaigning to lead the Progressive Conservatives, is a pragmatic move clearly designed to position the NDP in the moderate middle, conservative enough to appeal to Calgarians and progressive enough to distinguish the government from the increasingly scary hard-right positions being taken by the UCP’s leadership candidates.

Alert readers will recall that, not so long ago, the former national CTV news anchor was driven out of the PC leadership race by harassment from social conservative operatives suspected of being UCP frontrunner Jason Kenney’s supporters, young Tory men of the sort generically known as the boys in short pants. She crossed the floor to join the NDP in November 2016.

The appointment of Ms. Jansen to the infrastructure portfolio will also free up former NDP leader Brian Mason, until yesterday the minister of transportation and infrastructure, to act as the government’s pit bull in the pre-election period, a role in which he is likely to excel. Mr. Mason is Government House Leader in the Legislature as well.

The premier also appointed Jessica Littlewood, MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, as Parliamentary Secretary to the minister of economic development and trade, and Annie McKitrick, MLA for Sherwood Park, as Parliamentary Secretary to the minister of education. All three were sworn in at Government House in Edmonton yesterday afternoon.

The appointment of Ms. Jansen is pragmatic enough to recall memories of Alberta’s first PC government, led by the late Peter Lougheed, a leader Ms. Notley has been known to channel from time to time. Mr. Lougheed, of course, was a conservative who wasn’t afraid to pick economic winners when necessary, and who once nationalized an airline to keep it from pulling up stakes and moving from Calgary to Vancouver.

As such, the appointment wasn’t necessarily greeted with complete enthusiasm by every member of the NDP base. But Ms. Notley’s caucus itself is tightly disciplined and mostly disinclined to public eruptions of discontent.

Meanwhile, former Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer, now a member of the UCP caucus in the Legislature, seemed yesterday to be trying to take back Mr. Lougheed’s legacy for the Conservatives.

Leastways, in an email drumming up conference participants and cash for the Manning Centre, Preston Manning’s well-heeled Calgary-based PAC for market fundamentalist causes and politicians, Ms. Aheer complained about uppity Central Canadians who are happy about the recent demise of the Energy East Pipeline and wondered what has become of the Western conservative heroes of yesteryear.

“When Pierre Trudeau brought in the National Energy Program we had Peter Lougheed,” the Chestermere-Rocky View MLA lamented. “These days, if we want to have a Premier fight for us, we have to rely on Brad Wall.”

One could argue this is weird, coming from a loyalist to UCP leadership contender and former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who lately has been advocating policies to wean Canadian refiners from what he calls “Dictator Oil” that sound suspiciously like the elder Mr. Trudeau’s NEP.

Messrs. Jean, Kenney and Manning should take some time to straighten out the kinks in the UCP’s party line at the Manning Centre’s Western bun-fest in Red Deer next month.

By then, perhaps, Ms. Jansen will have figured out how to build a new hockey rink for the Calgary Flames – and to do it entirely on Mayor Nenshi’s terms. We’ll have to see about that …

20 Comments to: In a pragmatic move, Premier Rachel Notley appoints former Tory minister from Calgary to infrastructure portfolio

  1. J.E. Molnar

    October 18th, 2017

    The overwhelming collapse of conservative support in the race for mayor in Calgary bolsters the NDP’s fortunes for 2019. Adding Jansen’s ferocity to the mix only heightens their prospects.

    It appears the first salvo from Alberta’s right-wing guard, flexing their political muscle ahead of 2019 provincial election, was an unmitigated disaster. Throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the campaign to defeat Naheed Nenshi proved futile. Big money, the Manning Centre, heavyweight conservative MLA and MP backing, false polling and smear campaigns could not overcome the progressive tide now rolling through Cow Town.

    Could this conservative collapse in Calgary be a harbinger of things to come? Answer: A hard yes.

    Reply
    • Farmer B

      October 18th, 2017

      Bill Smith was really a political unknown when the campaign started. Mayor Nenshi went from what 74% support in the last election to 51% in this election. I would say Bill Smith did very well. Your statement of a overwhelming collapse of conservative support is based on what? Mainstreet’s poll? The forum poll had Nenshi up by I think 15%, depending on which poll you believe an arguement that either of the two front runners lost support in the last week. As for Sandra Jansen, you have a person who was running for the leadership of a right of center party and crossed the floor to left of center party. This shows me she has no real political beliefs except where can I have the most power. Premier Notley promoted her to cabinet to spend as much money in Calgary as they can before the next election to buy as many votes as possible. I think Alberta taxpayers including Calgarians have already had enough on the NDP’s open wallet policies. Enjoy your day

      Reply
      • CovKid

        October 19th, 2017

        Hello, Farmer B,

        I really appreciate your comments on a website that must be approaching toxic to your views but, then again, perhaps you need to be pushed to acknowledge an alternative to your universe.

        In regard to Bill Smith: he was such a blatant stooge presented by Calgary Sports and Entertainment, the Manning Centre and the UCP to parrot whatever would work which would result in public money going towards private interests that he immediately lost all credibility.

        Sandra Jansen left a party in disgust but that “party” has become even more disgusting, thereby enabling her to feel entitled to have severed her links for an environment which promotes a more equitable society.

        Reply
      • J.E. Molnar

        October 19th, 2017

        Farmer B, by way of conservative collapse you apparently have ignored the ballots cast for “progressive” councillors and school board reps who also won election. It wasn’t just the mayoralty race that featured a conservative collapse, it was elsewhere as well.

        Nenshi secured 199,000 votes which is the most he has ever received running for mayor. To say Bill Smith was an unknown is a tad farcical given his past profile in the community and amongst ardent conservative followers. Even if you don’t subscribe to that premise, you have to admit that big money, smear campaigns, the Manning Centre and heavyweight conservative MLA and MP support should have been more than enough to carry Smith across the finish line. No, it was a collapse of epic proportions just as UCP leadership candidate Dough Schweitzer is telling the conservative world in Alberta today. “The left wing kicked our butt” was how Schweitzer put it. Sounds like a collapse to me.

        As for Sandra Jansen, I’ll discount your conservative rage as simply sour grapes. Enjoy your day.

        Reply
        • Farmer B

          October 19th, 2017

          J.E. According to the platforms of the elected councillors Druh Farrell, Evan Wooley and Gian-Carlo Carra were endorsed as pro Union progressive candidates. The other 11 candidates were considered to be fiscally conservative candidates. Mayor Nenshi is also considered progressive. So 4 out of 15 considered progressive, hardly a conservative retreat. Enjoy your day

          Reply
      • Kang the barbarian

        October 19th, 2017

        You keep using the “tax payers.” I would remind you that everybody is a “citizen” with equal rights. Paying taxes does not change that.

        Reply
        • Farmer B

          October 21st, 2017

          Kang my thought is as a “citizen” of a modern society it is almost impossible to live without paying some sort of tax so I am not sure what point you are making. In fact those on the left of the political spectrum want government inserted into more areas of our life and therefore want us to pay more taxes!

          Reply
  2. Bloozguy

    October 18th, 2017

    Pragmatism? Opinions vary….

    “floor crossing, any floor crossing, is a dirty business…” – Thomas A. Lukaszuk‏ (via Twitter)

    Reply
  3. Brian

    October 18th, 2017

    Bill Smith lost for one reason alone: he wasn’t true enough of a conservative. He would have won with a landslide had he promise to cancel (not review) the Green Line, bulldoze the bike lanes, and slash business property taxes. Calgarians are tired of phony conservatives and want a strong, principled, ideologically-driven leader like other cities like Red Deer have in their mayors – otherwise they will pick the other option ten times of ten.

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      October 18th, 2017

      Bill Smith lost because Nenshi was a better choice.

      Your wish to have a strong principled conservative opponent who could unseat Nenshi is nothing more that a wistful fantasy involving pink unicorn farts.

      Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      October 18th, 2017

      So you are saying that since Bill Smith wasn’t conservative enough they voted for Nenshi instead?

      Reply
      • Athabascan

        October 19th, 2017

        No.

        Obviously, I am saying that your quest for a principled conservative cannot be fulfilled. Better that you should wish for a pink unicorn that farts perfume.

        Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      October 18th, 2017

      Sure… whatever gets you through the night after your loss.

      Reply
    • Hana Razga

      October 18th, 2017

      Pfft!

      Reply
    • Val Jobson

      October 19th, 2017

      Bill Smith didn’t know anything about how to be a mayor. There was no evidence that he would be competent.

      There was plenty of evidence that Nenshi is good at his job. Plus he loves Calgary and the people of Calgary and he says so often.

      Reply
  4. brett

    October 18th, 2017

    Excellent choice.

    Bravo!

    Bottom line for me. Jason Kenney is no Peter Lougheed. Brian Jean is no Peter Lougheed. They are both so very far from it. And many of their followers are nothing but an bunch or toadies, hangers on, or far right wing social conservatives who, because of their beliefs, could never find a home elsewhere. They hide under the guise of fiscal conservatism but eventually their true stripes come to the fore.

    Reply
  5. David

    October 18th, 2017

    I think the appointment of Ms. Jansen was a very good move. The government needs more high profile members from Calgary and Ms. Jansen is as high profile as it gets. She will hopefully be able to get more attention for all the good things that are being done in the city, present a moderate image and therefore help win over some of the remaining former PCs, who are put off by the more extreme Kenney and the UCP.

    I don’t know where Ms. Aheer comes up with her material about Saskatchewan Premier Wall being the savior of the west. Perhaps news travels to her a bit slow from Saskatchewan, but Wall announced his retirement a while ago or maybe someone forgot to tell her. I think the only thing Mr. Wall is interested in saving right now is for his RRSP’s.

    Mr. Manning must be be very disappointed that the best candidates money could buy did not do that well in the Calgary election. He may be beginning to realize that his UCP project to restore Conservatives to power in Alberta is really a bit like putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. All the duct tape in the world can not fix the cracks and some important pieces are missing, like a folksy leader that appeals to moderate voters. I suppose he can always call Mr. Wall and see if he is available to help now, as the Alberta Conservative types seem to admire him much more than their own current potential leadership choices.

    Reply
  6. brett

    October 18th, 2017

    Bill Smith did not loose because he was not enough of a Conservative.

    He lost because he did not put forward one specific policy. He lost because he was the trial balloon of the UCP. He lost because he was backed by CSEC, Ken King etc. whose goal was to elect someone who would write a sweatheart deal for him.

    He also lost because he had exhibited zero interest in municipal politics and it became very clear during the election the he either did not know much about them or was being poorly coached.

    My guess is that the same people behind Bill Smith’s campaign were the same people behind Barb Higgin’s disaster of a campaign. They both got used.

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      October 19th, 2017

      You got it!

      It was all about “dark money” backing Smith. That’s why he wouldn’t reveal his donor’s list.

      Reply
      • brett

        October 19th, 2017

        I heartily agree with your prior comment. Nenshi won this election because he was the better candidate.

        He did not become a candidate because, as a member of the search team trying to find on, they picked Smith because no one else came forward.

        Nenshi ran for Mayor because he cares about Calgary and Calgarians. He puts them first-at the top of the agenda. Full stop. I very much doubt that this was the case with Smith. He had other priorties above those. To a political party and to the folks that bankrolled his campaign. Just my opinion. I think it will be time for a change next time,,,,,but certainly a different kind of change that Bill Smith promised us.

        Reply

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