PHOTOS: Newly appointed University of Alberta Board of Governors Chair Michael Phair, left, with Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt at yesterday’s announcement (photo grabbed from MLA David Shepherd’s Twitter feed). Below: Former U of A Board Chair Douglas Goss and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson. Bottom: Interim PC Leader Ric McIver.

The appointment of Michael Phair as chair of the University of Alberta’s Board of Governors sends exactly the right message in several ways – about Alberta, about Alberta’s government, about the Alberta government’s views on post-secondary education.

It says Alberta has a diverse and open society. It says the government of this province is committed to encouraging and fostering that reality. And it says that, despite hard times, the NDP treats higher education as a priority that needs to thrive, especially in challenging economic conditions.

GossMr. Phair, who is 65 and was born in Wisconsin, is a former Edmonton city councillor who served in that role for 15 years. He retired from that elected job in 2007. He’s also a U of A adjunct professor in the Education Faculty and has been a teacher at two other Alberta universities. He is a tireless campaigner to end homelessness, and right now is the executive director of the North Saskatchewan River Valley Conservation Society. There’s a school named after him.

He is respected, in other words, as Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt remarked when he made the announcement of the selection yesterday morning.

And, yes, an important part of Mr. Phair’s personal story is that he is a longtime LGBTQ activist who is said to have been the first openly gay elected official in Alberta. He’s also a member of the advisory committee for the Institute of Sexual Minority Studies & Services at the U of A.

And while we live in hope the day will come soon when the fact someone is openly gay will be as irrelevant to a job application as their being openly straight, Mr. Phair’s tremendous courage in publicly being who he is when he was elected back in 1992 deserves great praise. It’s a big part of why so many people respect him.

That respect really shone through the almost universally enthusiastic reaction the announcement received from a wide variety of commenters on social media, despite just a couple of churlish Tweets from an alienated and powerless former Tory cabinet minister and a crotchety newspaper columnist who apparently judged Mr. Phair’s record on city council to be too progressive.

Iveson“What splendid news,” said Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson in a Tweet that more accurately reflected the general tone of the reaction.

The U of A board chair is appointed to a three-year term. In theory, the chair can be appointed for up to 10 consecutive terms. There’s no pay for the nevertheless important role, although expenses allowed by the board’s bylaws can be collected.

Perhaps Mr. Phair’s appointment will send a positive message of change to those Alberta school boards that are still resisting fair treatment of sexual minority students.

Mr. Phair’s appointment also brings to an end another political story. He replaces, if he doesn’t exactly succeed, Douglas Goss, who resigned as chair of the board last summer.

Mr. Goss, a lawyer, businessman and long-time Progressive Conservative supporter, had little choice but to quit after shooting himself in both feet, figuratively speaking, hours before the election of Premier Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party majority on May 5, 2015.

Mr. Goss and four other prominent Edmonton-area businessmen called a news conference on May 1 in the Jasper Avenue boardroom of Melcor Developments to assail Albertans for even pondering electing an NDP government, as polling accurately suggested they might be about to do. The Melcor Five urged voters to support then-premier Jim Prentice’s PCs instead.

After the storm of controversy generated by the tone-deaf quintet and notwithstanding a vote by the rest of the U of A Board on May 8 to keep Mr. Goss around as chair, he did the sensible thing under the circumstances and pulled the plug on July 21.

The other shoe has now dropped.

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PCs execute U-turn on nomination process in Calgary-Greenway by-election

You’d almost think we’ve entered a new era in politics in Alberta in which politicians are willing to admit publicly they might have made a mistake and openly change course.

McIverThe NDP has done it, and the now latest Alberta politician to make a screeching U-turn in the face of public criticism is interim PC Leader Ric McIver, who late Wednesday backed away from a decision unpopular with many of the party’s own supporters to appoint a candidate to run in the Calgary-Greenway riding.

Whoops! Mr. McIver said on social media, now the normal venue for Alberta political announcements, that he was responding to the “countless Albertans” who objected to the appointment of Prabhdeep Singh as candidate without a nomination election.

Instead, Mr. McIver said, there will be “a fair and open nomination process” after all, which is not necessarily the party’s tradition in the riding. There are several other candidates.

The by-election was called Tuesday by Premier Notley to fill the seat left vacant by the death in a highway crash PC MLA Manmeet Bhullar on Nov. 23. The by-election is scheduled to take place on March 22.

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  1. re: “The Melcor Five urged voters to support then-premier Jim Prentice’s PCs instead.”

    ‘Melcor Five’…useful name for some dominant players in what might be the most under-reported political reality of AB… the dominance of AB’s major cities/politics/development polices by the real-estate developers, especially once the late 70’s oil boom hit.

    Easy to conclude that their macho-cockiness from decades of dominating development politics in ABs major centres overwhelmed their brains in their decision to try to save AB’s from Rachel Notley.

    dominating development policy… e.g. the late 1990’s intense lobbying of Edm City Council by Urban Development Institute for the real-estate developers creating the unprecedented urban sprawl/loss of parkland/natural areas/premium farmland around Edmonton, especially in the SW and NE.

    Hence to this day…Edmonton is right up there on the podium among ‘champion’ cities re lowest density/urban sprawl/expensive traffic solutions/property tax burden to subsidize the history of sprawl developers.

    some sprawl/density data:

  2. Delighted to see the appointment of Michael Phair as chair of the U of A board of governors! What a great appointment. Congratulations to Michael, Marlin and the premier!

  3. Thank god the new kids are finally putting grown ups in charge and starting to throw out the Cons. Of course the Cons are very angry because they don’t have a bunch of drunks to vote for and “guide.”

    Yo Cons! Sub-dividing land and flipping it so you can sell it to people who make their living drilling holes to produce more oil than the world can possibly use is no measure of your ability to do anything. Any idiot can run a government or business when its main income is from burning up capital.

    That type of Con is all we have had for almost 40 years now. Take your 4x4s back to your tar paper and plastic McShacks and let the decent people fix things up. Go Rachel!

  4. This is a great move by the NDP government. Michael Phair is a tireless fighter for social justice, whether it’s for sexual minorities, the poor, or the environment. He has loads of political experience as a city councilor. He’s been willing to teach in the university’s ELLA program and other non-university programs. And he’s a wonderful human being too. Lucky University of Alberta. Hopefully the government will gradually appoint similar, humanistic, intellectual individuals to head up the other university boards in Alberta to replace the crass corporate types whom the Tories mainly appointed.

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