Justice Minister Kaycee Madu (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

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?

Former Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Minister Tanya Fir (Photo: Facebook).

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.

Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

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.

Finance Minister Travis Toews (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

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.

New Conservative Party of Canada Leader Erin O’Toole (Photo: Manning Centre).

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.

Social conservative CPC leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis (Photo: John Balca, LeslynLewis.ca).

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.

Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard (Photo: Facebook).

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.

Join the Conversation


  1. Black Lives Matter. But the placement of black politicians within a blindingly white caucus cannot be ignored.

    Kaycee Madu promotion is both explainable and completely bizarre. He IS an unsuccessful cabinet minister. But given the current political and social turmoil, why not bump him up? I am surprised that Tanya Fir was removed from the cabinet, but I guess in the UCP universe skin colour trumps ovaries.

    As for the stellar rise of Leslyn Lewis, her leap from obscurity to CPC cause celebre — and a surprising $2M campaign war chest gives me cause to say ‘kamikaze campaign’.

    Regarding the rise and fall of Peter McKay, one wonders what the GTA Red Tories are thinking whenever the Harper/Kenney gang keep poking their fingers in their business? (and their eyes)

  2. Wasn’t “failing upward” called “The Peter Principle” in days of yore? Oh, well. At least Jason Kenney could use this opportunity to eclipse Justin Trudeau’s appointment of Salma Lakhani as Lieutenant Governor. Wasn’t that the point?

    There’s a new fella trending federally, Eric O’Toole. He’s the heroic twin brother of that Erin fella, a kind of anti-Erin. People seem to like him more.

    Welcome back. I had begun to think you had used an Alberta-escape pod. Don’t mind the headless statues that may or may not have spring up at the legislature in your absence. Halloween is coming.

  3. Kenney’s cabinet shuffle was a bit of a surprise for everyone, it seems. Mr. Madu’s name seemed familiar, but I had to think hard to remember the outrage over his interference in municipal-election laws. (The outrage over giving oil companies a free pass to stiff rural municipalities, I always attributed to Lord Jason Hisself.) Whether Madu can do LESS harm at Justice remains to be seen.

    Lots of commenters on CBC’s web site were disgusted that Shandro and LaGrange were still in place. Disgusted, yes. Surprised, no. I’m certain they’re both doing what they’re told–part of which is to make Jason Kenney look good. Not an easy job, but Shandro does it very well.

    I don’t recall ever hearing about Tanya Fir, or even much about her former department. Not being a Twitterati or Facebookie, I hadn’t heard squat about Attabotics, much less the weird exchange reported by Press Progress. DJC, I’d have said you nailed it when you said she was fired for sounding like a responsible adult. Now I’m not sure.

    Schweitzer’s sideways punt looks to me like Lord Jason sticking another hatchet-man in place to chop, chop, chop government jobs and labour laws. Maybe I’m just cynical because I’m a government employee.

    Anyway, we now have more examples of how to earn praise and recognition from Jason, our Lord and Master under God. I can’t say I like what I’m seeing.

  4. The announcement of a $24.2 billion dollar deficit was certainly a gut punch but an over $20 billion dollar deficit had been anticipated. The reaction by Shannon Phillips was not a surprise either, raise corporate taxes back to 12% and raise taxes on the highest income earners. I have a couple of thoughts on this. First projected corporate tax revenue(from budget) was $4.539 billion, the government is now predicting corporate tax revenue of $2.1 billion. This would be with a corporate tax rate of 11% from April 1 to June 30 and then 8% thereafter. For simplicity sake let’s assume a 12% rate would give a 50% increase in corporate tax revenue which would be $1.05 billion, certainly helps but doesn’t put a very big dent in the revenue shortfall.

    Personal income taxes were projected to bring in $12.566 billion in revenue, the government is projecting that income taxes will bring in $10.666 billion, a loss of $1.9 billion in revenue. Now I will be honest, figuring out how much more revenue raising the top provincial income tax rate would bring in would be difficult because finding a breakdown of what percentage of that $10.666 billion is payed by the different income groups is no easy task. All I will say is that higher income individuals usually find ways around higher levels of taxation.

    The NDP’s belief that raising corporate taxes and personal taxes will fix the problem is as realistic as the UCP’s belief that it can be done with spending cuts and increased oil exports. Personally I think it will take both and throw in a provincial sales tax as well. Alberta would have weathered the economic shutdown much better if a sales tax had been implemented years ago, all you have to do is look next door at Saskatchewan, they are projecting a $2.1 billion dollar deficit for 2020-21.

  5. “As for the election of Erin O’Toole…”
    Instead of the bumbling Mr. MacKay maybe the Tories wanted someone with a cherub face and sensible shoes.

  6. It’s not that the CPC leadership race had overshadowed the recently fascinating train-wreckery of Alberta provincial politics, nor that our rubber-neckery couldn’t contort into any vantage of ‘can’t-look-away’ to take in both plays: it’s simply because our favourite observer of Alberta politics had been on a well deserved holiday that we non-Albertans had to make do with the federal scene in his absence —although that race might just as well be critiqued as a subplot to the serial drama storming the stage in Wild Rose Country these last five-and-a-half years. It was, after all, to the SoCons of the two ‘spare-cloth’ provinces swept by the CPC in 2019 that the Eastern Tory Erin O’Toole looked to support his successful bid to become leader of the Loyal Opposition in Ottawa, the party’s fourth leader since it was itself swept away by the Liberals in 2015 and by the combined votes of all non-CPC parties combined in 2019.

    I only watched O’Toole’s victory speech for mineable quotes (relying on punditry low-lights to characterize the rest of them—Sloan’s galling extremism, Lewis’ novel incongruity, and MacKay’s same old Peter-Principle), his requisite thank-yous to the runners-up and, I guess, the refreshing-sounding platitudes to the LGBTQ community—but what the heck was that closing remark: “Take back Canada”? It must’ve been, in spite of whomever of his best friends might be gay, a sop to the predominant SoCons among the Geckoids and, most recently promoted, skinheads of the CPC base.

    I expect a concordance of UCP and CPC rhetoric will soon confirm it.

    The CPC membership did manage to elect the compromise leader to try to reinforce the scar tissue holding the Western Reform and Eastern Tory factions together, but it’s a grim roster of facts that underscores the neo-right’s dilemma: traditional Progressive Conservatives have always resented what Reform did to their once-great party, the new PC leader Peter MacKay doubling the grudge when he broke his leadership convention promise not to throw in with the Reform-cum-Alliance Party, two subsequent minorities wrecking any semblance of parliamentary decorum, and a single majority in which voters’ goodwill was abused as the tail-end of Harper’s default governments saw odious resort to racist bigotry instrumental in ending the the SoCon-Westerners’ regime just four years past its zenith. As if to prove the CPC was in decline by 2015, the race to replace Harper turned into a cringingly extremist fascia-food-fight whence the once-Great-Québécois-Hope fell just shy of half members’ votes and eventually left the party to the Western SoCon winner in a snit to run candidates against it in 2019.

    So what Canada does O’Toole want to “take back”? As an Easterner, could he possibly have been thinking of Mulroney’s PCP heyday, that record-breaking sweep of the nation no conservative party of any stripe has come close to duplicating—except Mulroney’s somewhat less impressive second mandate? But he’s a HarperCon, not a ProgressiveCon. Yet he must have been wary of that that Golden-Age his main competition appealed to: MacKay’s rather disingenuous ‘unity’ platform, one of cooperation and compromise between all right-leaning citizens like the Big-PC-Tent he was complicit in destroying. And O’Toole cannot have been deaf to the growing nostalgia for the good old Tory days among Upper Canadian voters: indeed, for the first time in its 16-year history, the Eastern caucus won as many seats as the Western, and three-quarters of the leadership candidates were from the East. And what more evidence did O’Toole need to recognize the basic conundrum of CPC politics?—even at its zenith in 2011, the CPC never cracked the Lower Canada nut, never did well in the all-important Upper Canadian cities, and despite a multi-portfolio cabinet minister being one of their own, never did got more than tepid support in Atlantic Canada. O’Toole might have looked at the resurrection of Eastern CPC seats as an opportunity to inject some badly needed manners and political compromise into the Western Caucus And hopefully rebuild what only PC Tories ever had, broader support in urban Ontario, in Quebec, and in Atlantic provinces…but apparently he saw fit to cow tow to the strutting Little King of Alberta, the most uncompromising, East-baiting absurdist of the CPC Alma Mater.

    The question remains weather that was a tactic to outmanoeuvre front-runner MacKay within a larger strategy of moderating the increasingly intemperate Western faction—or whether it’s that same old neo-right cynicism to cultivate pure, chauvinistic partisanship among those most easily recruited that way.

    The relationship between Alberta and the CPC leader will be telling—mostly, I think, that Alberta wants to take Canada back—but might be willing to let the Upper Canadian federal leader try to sell it to old Tory nostalgia back home.

    We welcome DJC back to keep a keen eye on these fascinating developments.

    1. Yes. I’m surprised the Kenney Klowns haven’t started already. (Also disappointed; oh, to get a severance package!)

      Looks like they’re waiting till March to announce the next round of “austerity” cuts. Look for even more tax breaks for Big Business (enriching CEO’s and foreign investors) and gifts to for-profit health and education groups.

      To pay for Lord Jason’s generosity–guys like me will be forced to take pay cuts (when union contracts are renegotiated; trying to break them ran into opposition from the Alberta courts). Lots of us will lose jobs. Expect all government services to be cut. Again.

  7. Not that I agree with Kenney’s ideas, no surprise there, but I am still often surpised how they continue to execute everything in such an incredibly incompetent manner. Does this UCP government secretly have a death wish or what?

    Another slightly more competent right wing government might have promoted Ms. Fir and demoted Mr. Madu, but competence does not seem very valued by the current UCP regime. It is as if Mr. Kenney is doing his best to channel the chaotic and inept Aberhart administration. We all remember Social Credit as a political dynasty, but that success was probably because Aberhart died on them at the right time and they had someone more capable to take over. Hopefully Kenney has good health, that will probably keep the UCP from ever becoming a political dynasty.

    As for Mr. O’Toole, yes better than the guy before – Andrew who was he? Also, perhaps better than Peter MacKay, although I thought the Conservatives might go with someone who had a chance for broader appeal. Mr. O’Toole is a solid Conservative chap, I suppose. Although sort of reminds me of Stanfield, who was the best at the time the PC’s could put up against the Liberals and he lost several times.

    My sense is the Federal Conservatives are still drinking their own kool aid, thinking that Trudeau will defeat himself and they just need to have someone who appears reasonably competent to take over. Sorry guys, but it will take a bit more than that.

  8. Why take Doug Schweitzer out of Justice? Any chance the RCMP investigation into Jason Kenney’s leadership shenanigans is winding up and Mr. Kenney is afraid Doug Schweitzer can’t be relied upon to decline to prosecute? Kenney has certainly seen the damage a less than loyal justice minister did to Justin Trudeau.

    1. Responding to JSS,
      Sorry I agree that Public Sector Cuts should be in the future.
      I like Madu when he found all that playing around in the Calgary
      city council with the Retirement pay outs. But I have to agree
      he is more than a bit off on the taxes for the oil and gas when
      everyday citizens have a single wage earner in a lot of homes.

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