Kaycee Madu, possibly Alberta’s least successful cabinet member in the estimation of his portfolio’s key stakeholders, as Alberta justice minister?
Who saw that coming?
Of the three major political events affecting Alberta that took place while your blogger was out of the province, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s cabinet shuffle last Tuesday was the only one at which anything unexpected happened.
Mr. Madu’s promotion wasn’t the only shuffle surprise. There was also an unexpected demotion for former justice minister Doug Schweitzer and a rude return to the backbenches for Tanya Fir (pronounced Fear), perhaps the only United Conservative Party minister who actually sounded like a grownup when she spoke.
As for the election of Erin O’Toole, the 47-year-old 60 year old who was sworn in Monday as the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, if anyone was surprised, they must not have been paying attention.
Sure, the media played the leadership contest as a horserace, but that’s what mainstream media always does. It’s part of its obsolete business model. Recent history, though, showed supposed frontrunner Peter MacKay’s story is a catalogue of fumbles, while Mr. O’Toole was backed by the party’s former leader and current éminence grise, Stephen Harper. So while the mechanics of Mr. O’Toole’s victory and the likelihood of his future success are worthy topics for analysis, no one should have put any money on Mr. MacKay winning anything.
If there was a long-shot bet worth making in that vote, surely it was on Leslyn Lewis, the Toronto lawyer whose stronger-than-expected showing illustrates the power of social conservatives in the CPC continues to grow.
As for Thursday’s first-quarter financial update by Alberta’s Finance Minister, it was exactly as predicted in this space: Red ink and bleak forecasts, precisely the crisis neoliberal governments like Mr. Kenney’s pray for so they can implement the Shock Doctrine, which is just what Travis Toews has promised us.
Mr. Toews’ planned program of austerity, vicious cuts and privatization comes at exactly the moment conventional economic wisdom says governments should do the opposite. In other words, just like past Alberta governments, this one has no real plan for dealing with the province’s financial predicament beyond praying for higher oil prices. Ideological claptrap and blaming Ottawa may work at the ballot box, but won’t do much for our fiscal plight, which includes a predicted $24.2-billion deficit as the COVID-19 pandemic and recession continue.
True to form for Alberta governments of all stripes, the UCP put off the worst news till the fall budget, no doubt in hope oil prices will miraculously recover enough to justify, at least, more tax cuts amid the coming cuts and chaos.
Getting back to that cabinet shuffle, if anyone was hoping Alberta’s belligerent health minister, Tyler Shandro, or the province’s passively aggressive education minister, Adriana LaGrange, were headed for the high jump, they were disappointed.
Both Mr. Shandro and Ms. LaGrange are performing precisely as Mr. Kenney intends — aggressively undermining popular public health and public education programs while serving as lightning rods to direct voters’ anger away from the premier.
Neither is likely to be moved to another portfolio until the damage they’ve been put in place to do has been completed for this election cycle.
Meanwhile, though, the appointment of Mr. Madu as justice minister, after a disastrous tenure in municipal affairs where he alienated virtually every municipal politician in the province, was a remarkable development.
Political blogger Dave Cournoyer called Mr. Madu’s unexpected success “failing upward.”
Still, something had to be done to mitigate the fury Mr. Madu’s high-handed approach prompted among members of the UCP’s political farm team on rural municipal councils, where UCP exemptions for oil and gas company taxes have sparked a near uprising among normally supportive councils, not to mention among voters facing tax increases of 300 per cent and more.
Similar unhappiness among urban municipal politicians may not have worried Mr. Kenney’s tight inner circle quite as much — especially in Edmonton where Mr. Madu was the only UCP candidate who managed to get elected in the 2019 general election.
But the rural uproar obviously caught their attention, and the least risky strategy was likely to put Mr. Madu, a lawyer, in a more prestigious portfolio where there was less potential for disaster.
Tracy Allard, MLA for Grande Prairie, takes over as municipal affairs minister. She will be the ninth MLA to hold this cabinet post in 10 years. Only the NDP, which got no credit for the effort, seems to have treated the ministry as anything more than a junior portfolio.
As for Mr. Schweitzer, the former justice minister, there was that unreported donation from Steve Allan, the Alberta Inquiry commissioner whose secretive efforts to uncover an “anti-Alberta” campaign by “foreign funded” environmental groups has never quite passed the sniff test.
By moving Mr. Schweitzer to a new portmanteau ministry of Jobs, Economy and Innovation — absorbing the equally polysyllabic Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism —at least it can be argued his responsibility for the new Invest Alberta Corporation is less of a demotion than it really is.
Like all such efforts, the Crown-owned IAC is unlikely to accomplish much — but it should give Mr. Schweitzer a decent excuse to be out of town on business in places like New York whenever the potential for embarrassment arises from his past connections with Mr. Allan arises.
Then there is the mystery of Ms. Fir, returned to the backbenches after a reasonably credible performance in Economic Development, Trade and Tourism.
What happened? Did it have something to do with the former minister’s claim her Facebook account was “temporarily compromised,” resulting in her appearing to criticize a company she’d just praised?
Or maybe it was the fact someone finally noticed her campaign manager in last year’s election was Craig Chandler, the man both the old Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose Party sent packing for views too toxic for either party.
Or did it have to do with the fact she sounded too much like a grownup when she conducted her business, unlike the smart-mouthed boy-men who orbit around Mr. Kenney or the passive non-entities that occupy some lesser cabinet posts?
A clear explanation is unlikely to be forthcoming any time soon.