PHOTOS: Nick Koolsbergen, new chief of staff to United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney. (Photo: Lorian Belanger/Radio-Canada.) Below: UCP Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Wolf (Photo: Linkedin), UCP communications staffer Blaise Boehmer (Photo: Twitter), and Jamie Mozeson, former candidate to succeed Rona Ambrose as MP for Sturgeon River-Parkland (Photo: Jamie Mozeson Campaign).
United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney has been known to joke on social media about how his political staffers work so hard it’s lucky they don’t have a union contract with overtime in it.
But according to a little birdie of your blogger’s acquaintance – a canary in a coal mine? – time off in lieu of overtime (TOIL) was one of the principal reasons all but one of the 21 political staffers sacked by the UCP immediately after Mr. Kenney became the leader last Saturday came from the Wildrose Party.
Former Progressive Conservative staffers were not only better paid, the little bird chirped, but since their contracts with the PCs included TOIL, and some of them had accumulated weeks of vacation for time they’ve already worked, it was going to be too expensive to turf them to make way for Mr. Kenney’s higher-paid incoming hires.
So 20 of the 21 skidded this week were former Wildrose Party political staffers, who were paid less and didn’t get TOIL – and were therefore cheaper to fire on both counts.
It was a point of pride among Wildrose Caucus members that none of their political staffers were paid enough to make the provincial “sunshine list” of government employees who earn more than $126,375.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kenney is bringing in new senior staff – many of whom he knows and trusts from his days in Ottawa and some of whom, like the staffers from other parties, don’t have much connection with Alberta. It will be interesting to see if mainstream media covers this aspect of Mr. Kenney’s political staff with as much enthusiasm as they did NDP political advisors who came from out of province.
It will also be interesting to see if Mr. Kenney’s new hires make next year’s sunshine list, as seems likely.
The new UCP hires include Nick Koolsbergen, late of Ottawa and Victoria, as Mr. Kenney’s chief of staff. Mr. Koolsbergen worked as executive director of communications and research for former B.C. Liberal premier Christy Clark, as director of issues management for former prime minister Stephen Harper, and as director of communications in Mr. Kenney’s Ottawa office.
While working for Mr. Harper, the CBC has reported, Mr. Koolsbergen was criticized for contributing to a memorandum asking government staff to develop enemies lists for use by incoming Conservative ministers. The Harper Prime Minister’s Office also faced questions about what Mr. Koolsbergen was up to in 2015 when he was seen in the hall of an Ottawa courthouse dressed in a bunnyhug while engaged in a conversation with a witness in the trial of Sen. Mike Duffy.
The list also includes Matt Wolf, of Ottawa and Toronto, as deputy chief of staff. Mr. Wolf was issues management director for Mr. Kenney’s leadership campaign, rapid response advisor of the federal Conservative campaign, and Sun Media executive producer of prime time programming, which included the Ezra Levant Show.
These two are official, as both have now appeared in the Alberta government’s online staff directory.
Other new staffers whose presence has not yet been made official by an appearance in the government’s list of employees but who are reported by folks familiar with the operations of the UCP to have been hired include:
Blaise Boehmer, best known as chief social media attack dog of the Kenney campaign, as manager of the UCP’s Calgary office. He will also likely continue to have a communications role.
Annie Dormuth, formerly of Regina, more recently a Kenney campaign spokesperson, as communications director.
Jamie Mozeson, in the news recently as the unexpectedly defeated frontrunner in the contest to become the Conservative Party of Canada’s Sturgeon River-Parkland by-election candidate to replace former Opposition leader Rona Ambrose. She grew up in Spruce Grove and worked as a policy advisor for Conservative premier Jim Prentice and as an intern in Mr. Harper’s PMO.
Daniel Williams, a former Ottawa aide to Mr. Kenney when he was minister of defence.
Peter Bissonnette, Ottawa legislative aide and data management co-ordinator to Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan MP Garnett Genuis, who like Mr. Kenney is well known as a vocal social conservative.
Andrew Griffin, late of Calgary and Ottawa, a former constituency assistant to Mr. Kenney in his days as MP for Calgary-Midnapore.
The status as UCP employees of the latter six reported new staffers has not yet been confirmed.
Meanwhile, former PC and Wildrose MLAs alike are dealing with the new reality of a party caucus run the Kenney way. The days when they had political staff to help with social media posts and other duties as assigned are now over. If they want that stuff done now, they’re learning, they’re going to have to do it themselves.
This is said to have resulted in a degree of dissatisfaction – always a management problem in a small caucus. Party Whip Ric McIver will have some work to do to lash them into a team.
Meanwhile, I’m told, former Wildrosers who used to complain about how former Opposition leader and unsuccessful UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean controlled their lives are finding that Mr. Kenney takes that inclination to a whole new level.
Write your own questions for Question period? Fuggedaboudit! Here’s your question. Thou shalt read it!
Who knows, before things have settled down, more than one UCP Opposition MLA may wish it had been them who got the marching orders Calgary-Lougheed MLA Dave Rodney was handed – step aside for the leader or face unpleasant consequences!