PHOTOS: A chaotic scene, not atypical of Alberta labour relations in the Age of Asbell, shot with a phone camera in the offices of the Alberta Labour Relations Board in Edmonton. Below: ALRB Chair Mark Asbell and former CBC reporter John Archer. Sorry about the lousy photos, but, hey, I’m working with what I can find!

The CBC’s Legislative reporter, John Archer, announced on Twitter yesterday he is transitioning from @cbcarch to @ablegarch – that is to say, he’s going to work in communications for Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

Mr. Archer’s title, he tells me, will be “Media Officer,” although surely an address as prestigious as the third floor of the East Wing of the Legislative Building could come up with something better than that!

Mr. Archer was the president of the Alberta Legislative Press Gallery. As a Legislative reporter, he was known as a tough questioner who refused to accept the usual evasions favoured by politicians of all stripes and bureaucrats of many varieties. Having been on the receiving end of his questions myself a couple of times, I can vouch for his laser-like determination to get the story he was after.

Mr. Archer will surely be missed in the Legislature, where too many media questions are softballs and journalistic passivity is often the norm. That may change, mind you, now that conservatives congenial to media owners are now longer in power – and perhaps part of Mr. Archer’s job will be to respond briskly to any reporter who steps out of line.

His sardonic style will also be missed on CBC’s morning drive show, where he sometimes filled in as host.

It’ll be interesting to see if Mr. Archer can develop the patience and forbearance necessary to deal diplomatically with journalists, a substantial number of whom Conrad Black has reminded us are “ignorant, lazy, opinionated, and intellectually dishonest.” I mention this, with no apologies whatsoever to Lord Black, as an aged hack toiling through a miasma of mounting decrepitude.

Meanwhile, as Mr. Archer enters the government’s service, the skids are said to be being greased for a rapid departure by Mark Asbell, chair of the Alberta Labour Relations Board since 1999. Mr. Asbell, a University of Alberta-trained lawyer, nowadays a Q.C., was also the board’s vice-chair from 1991 to 1997.

It would be fair to say Mr. Asbell has been unpopular with many trade unionists during his unusually long tenure for decisions by the Board that they saw as tilted steeply toward employers over the rights of unionized workers. In fairness, Mr. Asbell was charged with administering some of the most regressive and unfair labour legislation in Canada by a regime that was clearly not at all sympathetic to the idea of balanced labour relations.

The search for a replacement to chair the ALRB is said to be actively under way, and its successful conclusion cannot come too soon for many of Mr. Asbell’s old adversaries.

On another journalistic note, though one not beginning with an A, former Wildrose Party chief and short-tenured Tory caucus member Danielle Smith will commence two weeks as a replacement host on NewsTalk Radio 770’s afternoon public affairs show June 15.

Ms. Smith, who spent a few years in broadcasting before launching her provincial political career, replaces former Liberal, Independent and Alberta Party MLA Dave Taylor in the temporary slot, which sounds like a tryout for a longer-term position to me, at the Calgary talk-radio station owned by Corus Entertainment.

Her political career ended suddenly not long after she led much of the Wildrose caucus in a mass defection to the Progressive Conservative benches of the Legislature in December 2014.

Mr. Taylor retired from politics in 2012, choosing not to run in that year’s general election, and has now retired from radio too. It’s not certain what this means for your blogger’s frequent appearances on the genial Mr. Taylor’s program.

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  1. There is going to be a by-election in Calgary Foothills within five months (since Jim Prentice quit in a huff on election night.) We have an opportunity to bring back Bob (that’s Bob Hawkesworth if you don’t know what I am getting at) who ran as the NDP candidate for the provincial legislature in Calgary Mountain View in 1986 and beat Conservative candidate Jim Prentice by 257 votes. Bob served two terms as an NDP Member of the Legislature, from 1986 to 1993. He also served as a member of Calgary City Council from 1980 to 1986 and again from 1993 to 2010. This is a guy with experience and credentials. We need him in the Legislature as part of the Notley government. The nomination meeting for Calgary Foothills is presently scheduled for June 29 or 30. The two week cut-off means that you have to be a current member of the NDP by June 15 to be eligible to vote at the Foothills nomination meeting. You can get information about joining the party at

    Join the NDP

    The Alberta NDP is a true democratic party. Our members make the rules and guide our policy. As a member, you can play a full part in the party, including your local riding association, and receive the party newspaper and the electronic news…

  2. ‘Journalists who joined the ranks of press secretaries include Jeremy Nolais and Leah Holoiday from Metro, and Veronica Jubinville and Laura Tupper from CTV”

    It seems as if the journalists who took the most aggressive stances against the Tories are being justly rewarded, John Archer’s CBC was particularly noteworthy–stories of the Tories misplacing lawn signs were especially remarkable in their bias.

    1. Oh please. Apart from Archer and Nolais, msot of these appointments couldn’t find the Legislature building without Goiogle Maps. They are being appointed precisely because they have little to no political experience. They’ll be more than easy for the refugees from the failed Selinger coup in Manitoba who populate Notley’s office to control along with the messages from “centre!”

  3. Look, I haven’t always been Mark Asbell’s biggest fan, but I think we need to focus on what’s important here.

    The effectiveness of the Labour Board is less about its Chairperson and more about ensuring we have fair labour laws in Alberta. We don’t currently have fair laws and I would argue that Asbell has done a reasonable job with the laws and resources he’s had at his disposal.

    Rather than tossing the Chair out, we should be working with this new government to make sure that the Board has adequate funding and to amend our labour laws so that they don’t look like they were written around the same time that dinosaurs roamed the planet. Let’s give the Board the tools it needs to do it’s job fairly and effectively rather than rush to cosmetic and ultimately irrelevant changes.

    As the President of the largest private sector union in the province, I know firsthand the difference a properly equipped Labour Board can make in ensuring that workers are treated fairly and have protection from profit-hungry corporations. I have a hard time seeing how getting rid of Mr. Asbell does anything to create that sort of Labour Board in this province.

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