PHOTOS: Premier Rachel Notley introduces her expanded, 19-member (that is, 18 full + 1 associate member) cabinet to the media at Government House yesterday morning. (Photo by Dave Cournoyer, used with permission.) Below: New cabinet members Christina Gray, Richard Feehan, Brandy Payne, Marlin Schmidt, Ricardo Miranda and Stephanie McLean, all from their official portraits.

Introducing her freshly shuffled cabinet at Government House yesterday morning, Premier Rachel Notley demonstrated again why she remains the Alberta NDP’s greatest asset – engaging, believable, well briefed, thoughtful and thoroughly persuasive.

The cabinet shuffle wasn’t bad either.

GrayBut as Ms. Notley’s bravura performance before the Edmonton media clearly demonstrated, the NDP strategic brain trust really needs to get her out more, where she can work her magic on Martha and Henry Albertan, instead of just the same old crowd of cynical journos.

With the addition of five new ministers and one associate minister, the shuffle achieved one desperately needed goal above all: it included enough members for almost every minister to hold a single portfolio, or its equivalent, so that no one minister must struggle just to do her job, or his.

But, just in case the opposition or the media took a notion to complain about that, the cabinet is still smaller than any previous Alberta cabinet in the past decade and smaller than any other cabinet in Western Canada, including the one in the province next door to the east with a big name, a small population and a conservative government.

The highlights?

FeehanEdmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman, who early on emerged as the most capable minister in Ms. Notley’s original cabinet, is now deputy premier as well as remaining minister of health, where she is already highly respected by people at all levels who work in the health care field. Calgary-Acadia MLA Brandy Payne was named associate minister of health, to help with the workload inevitable in such a crucial and large portfolio.

Marlin Schmidt, the well-regarded MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar was named minister of advanced education. New Democrats who were unhappy that this capable and hardworking member was not in the first cabinet, and there were many, will be pleased.

Stephanie McLean, MLA for Calgary-Varsity, another representative who was touted as potential cabinet material in the first go-round, was named the minister of Service Alberta and minister responsible for the status of women. This was a highly symbolic appointment – Ms. McLean is one of two new members of the cabinet who are expecting. The other soon-to-be mom is Ms. Payne.

The government is serious about helping parents manage their careers and their families, Ms. Notley pointedly observed. And just let the Opposition try to attack that!

PayneRicardo Miranda, MLA for Calgary-Cross, is the new minister of culture and tourism. He is Alberta’s first openly gay minister of the Crown.

The department of Aboriginal Relations has been renamed Indigenous Relations, “reflecting the preferences of Indigenous communities,” Ms. Notley observed, continuing with the NDP’s policy of treating Indigenous communities with respect. This is only worthy of note because other governments have historically been so disrespectful. Richard Feehan, MLA for Edmonton-Rutherford, was named minister of Indigenous relations.

The government also created a Climate Change Office, which will report to Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips, the MLA for Lethbridge-West.

Christina Gray, MLA for Edmonton-Mill Woods, was named the minister of labour and the minister responsible for democratic renewal, a new portfolio. Ms. Gray has been given the responsibility of reviewing the recommendations of the all-party committee appointed by the government last June to review the Election Act, the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, the Conflicts of Interest Act, and the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act.

SchmidtThe appointment of Ms. Gray and Mr. Schmidt to their portfolios also removes Edmonton-Riverview MLA Lori Sigurdson from the Labour file, which she arguably flubbed on the Bill 6 farm safety issue, as well as the advanced education portfolio. She remains responsible for seniors and housing, which sure sounds like a demotion to me.

So what does that leave the Opposition to complain about? Not much, if they’re using their heads – which is never guaranteed, of course.

I suppose they could complain that the department previously known as something like that of jobs, skills, training, really small minimum wage increases, work, and, oh yeah, labour is now named after what it actually does.

They could also whinge a little that the deputy premier should have come from Calgary.

MirandaThey could try to complain about the fact Ms. Notley made a point of maintaining gender parity in her cabinet – 10 women and nine men – and suggest that quality, not gender, should be the guiding principle.

Readers can probably count on it they’ll do all those things. But, everything considered, that’s pretty thin gruel. Plus, what would all the men do if brains and qualifications were the only basis on which cabinet selections were selected?

So, it’s said here, yesterday was a pretty good day for the Notley government.

Considering the controversy generated by the NDP’s U-turn on resource royalty rates at the end of last week, which made some traditional NDP supporters feel pretty blue but as blogger Susan Wright pointed out also backed the two conservative opposition parties into a policy cul-de-sac, they’re not doing badly in the bigger political picture either.

It doesn’t even hurt, as Edmonton Journal political columnist Graham Thomson observed yesterday that Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan complained to a Sun columnist about the government’s change of course on royalties. “By incurring the wrath of Alberta’s more left-leaning organizations, the NDP suddenly looks more moderate and realistic,” Mr. Thomson observed.

McLeanAfter the royalty review reported on Friday, the Notley government followed up on Monday with the announcement of a job-creation program designed to directly pump half a billion dollars into the economy by letting petrochemical companies get and resell royalty credits for investing in value-added plants. The government predicts this program could result in $5 billion in investments in the province’s energy sector.

Also on Monday, Finance Minister Joe Ceci ruled out listening to a call by a group of prominent academics to implement a sales tax. That may or may not be sound economic policy, but it will also be hard for the opposition parties to attack the government since they all share the same consensus on that issue.

Today, Premier Notley is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which should generate a few more headlines and some news photos of the two photogenic leaders standing together on the steps of the Legislature.

So what’s left for the Opposition? The #Kudatah? The magical, peaceful removal of the government that’s supposed to happen in a week, or maybe when the Legislature resumes sitting on March 8. I only mention that in case, like any sensible person, you’d forgotten.

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  1. excerpt: ‘Marlin Schmidt, the well-regarded MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar was named minister of advanced education.’

    Marlin Schmidt should have had the Environment portfolio from the get go…Based on real life resumes.

    The current Environment Minister’s resume is thin on actual content/experience by comparison to Schmidt.

    Schmidt’s education/career/on-the-ground experience gives him a more ground-truthed perspective on the complexity of the oil/tar sands environmental challenges. Significantly more real-life expertise and insight into the realities of oil/gas/tarsand impacts, if his resume is taken at face-value.

    Schmidt’s experience is relevant, given today’s news:

    excerpt: ‘The panel made several recommendations. It’s “critical” that a health study on contaminants in the Athabasca River be conducted as soon as possible, it said. A baseline human-health study should also be conducted.

    Must look at proliferation of projects

    As well, Alberta should stop examining development on a project-by-project basis.

    “The regulatory regime must look at the overall proliferation of resource development projects and the impact of such major developments on the people living in that area,” the panel said.

    The report should raise questions about the oilsands projects that have been approved since the plan came into force, said Eriel Deranger, spokeswoman for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.’

  2. What was the rationale for removing Lori Sigurdson from the Advanced Education portfolio? So now we have a new minister (Marlin Schmidt) who is responsible for pulling Athabasca University out of the fire.

    AU is in a state of crisis and Notley replaces the minister in charge of fixing the mess. More delays I say. How long before we educate Schmidt and bring him up to speed, so that he is motivated to act?

    The government will eventually get involved, but the question is, will it be before or after the meltdown? This latest shuffle does not inspire my optimism, unfortunately.

    Many of us are pleading the same thing: Please help us here at AU, before more people lose their jobs.

  3. ” announcement of a job-creation program designed to directly pump half a billion dollars into the economy by letting petrochemical companies…”

    Let’s not forget the money was taken out of the economy by the corporate tax hikes. Apparently other Alberta industries need to pick up their Legislature game if they are to match the petrochemical lobby! I dare say Alberta banana producers need to start lobbying for their subsidy, since the fact it’s more than 30% more expensive to build one of these plants here than on the US Gulf Coast was apparently to obstacle to the petrochemical industry securing an Alberta government handout..

  4. I still think it’s unfair to focus on Ms. Sigurdson as the one who flubbed Bill 6. That had a lot of help – not least of which came from the Minister of Ag (it’s his office that should have been dealing with the commodity commissions that came out against Bill 6) – so to say Ms. Sigurdson flubbed is I think rather unfair even how many other people obviously failed on it.

    1. This is obviously a comment that is both fair and reasonable, and the fact that Ms. Sigurdson remains in cabinet suggests the premier would concur. That said, politics is one of those brutal fields where success or the lack of it are the final measure, circumstances notwithstanding. Another is generalship in war. It doesn’t matter if a general or cabinet minister wins because she’s smart, or lucky, or surrounded by good lieutenants, what matters is that she wins. The opposite is true as well. This is rough kind of calculus that doesn’t apply to most of us, but it is a game in which the stakes are particularly high.

      1. What a great way to define politics. In that short paragraph you have zeroed in on the essence of what politics actually is.

        In my mind politics has always been the art of appearances. For better or worse if a politician looks like a loser, regardless of their accomplishments or lack thereof, they are effectively losers. Brutal I know but…

        In a way, it’s not much different than marketing. If you can’t sell the steak sell the sizzle on the grill. Well, in politics it has always been more about the sizzle. If you want proof compare the facts about the National Energy Program with the perception/propaganda.

      2. David I agree with your analogy of politics to war but I have to ask why not make both generals wear this failure instead of just pointing to Sigurdson when this mess comes up?

  5. Look. If I’m the Notley crew, and I want to win a second election, what has to happen? Great progress by our policies? Sure but beyond that, well, number one, the right has to remain divided. After that? It’s a lot easier. Build up the positives that you’re finding from their past terms and employ their leadership contenders on committees that can actually implement some improvements and then acknowledge them for their contribution. Offer the Wildrose leadership on committees that deal with social issues.
    Sound like a plan?
    PS Dump your own, as soon as they prove their ineluctable dimness.

  6. “…[openly gay] cabinet minister of the Crown…” A quibble from the Department of Redundancy Department … you can be a Cabinet Minister, or a Minister of the Crown, but not both, since they both mean the same thing.

    As for the new ministers, the right have already started assailing the appointment of Ms McLean, who is scheduled to go off to engage in an over-medicalized natural bodily function involving procreation and the perpetuation of the species, a scant few days after being appointed to Cabinet, on the grounds that she will not be working in her new post for some time. However, I get the impression that she won’t be taking a full year off on Maternity Leave, as is the norm for most employees in Canada, since as an MLA, she is not eligible for EI.

    1. Jerry is, of course, quite right about the redundancy in this sentence, which has now been fixed. The addition of “of the Crown” was a last-minute edit when, for some reason, my eye passed over the “cabinet,” as happens with increasing frequency in my dotage. My intention was to make it clear I was not speaking of ministers of God, some of whom are openly gay. I didn’t notice what I had done, since it was on one of my last passes through the story, until I saw Jerry’s comment. As always, I am grateful to my readers for fulfilling the essential role of copy editor as well. DJC

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