Alberta Politics
The University of Alberta campus (Photo: U of A).

Corporate lobbyist and former aide to two Conservative premiers named University of Alberta external relations VP

Posted on November 16, 2020, 12:35 am
6 mins

A high-profile lobbyist with connections to past Alberta Conservative governments and involvement in a controversial effort to open a large private hospital in Edmonton has been named as the University of Alberta’s new vice-president of external relations.

U of A leadership, presumably, concluded lobbyist Elan MacDonald has the connections necessary to work with Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party Government, which is imposing crippling 20-per-cent cuts over three years on Alberta’s post-secondary institutions.

Lobbyist Elan MacDonald (Photo: Atlas Growers).

Ms. MacDonald has recently toiled behind the scenes in her role as senior vice-president of Global Public Affairs, an Ottawa-based government advocacy and communications firm with offices in eight Canadian cities.

But back in the day she served for a spell as deputy chief of staff to Progressive Conservative premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford and as campaign manager for Gary Mar, the front-runner to replace Mr. Stelmach who was unexpectedly defeated by Ms. Redford in the fall of 2011.

An official blog post by university President Bill Flanagan last week announced Ms. MacDonald’s appointment with the usual breathlessly anodyne recitation of her professional accomplishments and board memberships.

In August, a story by CBC investigative journalists Jennie Russell and Charles Rusnell provided a peek behind the curtain of how lobbyists like Ms. MacDonald work with the UCP Government.

The CBC report described a leaked recording of a presentation to Edmonton-area orthopedic surgeons by a group including doctors and a developer, assisted by Ms. MacDonald and her firm, who hope to build and operate the largest private, contracted surgical facility in the Alberta history.

The CBC’s scoop focused on the revelation the facility near the Royal Alexandra Hospital in downtown Edmonton already enjoyed strong support from Health Minister Tyler Shandro, according to speakers including Ms. MacDonald who are heard during the hour-long recording.

The recording, the reporters wrote, “provides a rare window into how the promoters of the project, through their lobbyists, wielded political influence behind the scenes to advance a private health-care initiative.”

University of Alberta President Bill Flanagan (Photo: U of A).

“The government has been very warm to the project,” Ms. MacDonald is heard saying in the recording of the pitch meeting to the surgeons, according to the CBC’s report.

“We really want [the Ministry of Health] from the political perspective to be pulling this project through and really be directing down to [Alberta Health Services] that this is something that they want to have happen,” the CBC quoted her telling the gathered surgeons.

The CBC story quoted Ms. MacDonald saying Mr. Shandro’s principal advisor, lawyer Ivan Bernardo, “also was very warm to the project and really asked, ‘What are the impediments and how can he help remove them?’”

Global Public Affairs, of course, is only one of many groups lobbying the health ministry seeking business opportunities as the UCP goes about privatizing health care in Alberta.

Press Progress reported last week that Alberta Health, as the ministry is known, has been lobbied more than 150 times since the beginning of September. The lobbying efforts included “104 companies that generally operate on a for-profit mandate or offer private health services,” Press Progress said.

Meanwhile, Ms. MacDonald will take up her new duties with the U of A, where she worked in 2001 on what Mr. Flanagan described as the university’s “government relations team,” on New Year’s Day 2021.

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro (Photo: Government of Alberta/Flickr).

She will arrive just in time to help the university deal with those brutal cuts announced last spring for Alberta post-secondary institutions by Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides.

And the university’s plans, it would seem, to merge faculties, lay off employees and make significant changes to traditional programs in response are proceeding apace.

On Friday, in another official U of A blog post, President Flanagan released a 46-page document containing three revised proposals for the restructuring of the university. An earlier version was circulated in September.

Mr. Flanagan asked members of the university community to participate in a “thought exchange” about which of three restructuring proposals for the university they would prefer.

They will have until tomorrow to get their comments in, a time frame that certainly gives the impression not much sober second thought will be possible about the scenarios the president’s restructuring committee has come up with.

Ms. MacDonald should probably expect fireworks.

10 Comments to: Corporate lobbyist and former aide to two Conservative premiers named University of Alberta external relations VP

  1. tom

    November 16th, 2020

    Methinks the next few years will see more brains draining out of Alberta than oil.

    Reply
  2. Bill Malcolm

    November 16th, 2020

    At this point, I’m beginning to wonder what the vultures are still so interested in feeding on in Alberta. Federal funds, one supposes. The place itself is being hollowed out and is near enough toast for the future, because the days of oil and plenty are near an end, and the UCP government is completely incapable of an alternative vision for the province, preferring retrenchment. Like any Conservative government whose alter ego is reactionary by definition, the future involves only in feeding the already overly plump and needy who got them into office. Oh sure, they could afford a bit of infrastructure when there was so much money about, a new highway was only table crumbs. But the people’s (who?) dreams? Oh, just pump out the usual line of Con/UCP BS telling them they’re wonderful individualists, and that the bogey man will come and get them all the way from Ottawa and take away their “rights” unless resolutely repelled, when it’s the povincial dudes, their neighbours, who are actually doing it. Brazen horsesh!t, but did that ever stop a Con? Not on your nelly. Screw the average citizen, and squeeze them till they squeak — on somebody else’s watch with any luck when it gets really bad.

    Thus it’s corporate feeding time on the Alberta carcass, I guess, so that the overly rich who expected to get wildly rich are only going to get a doubly richer instead, before decamping for greener pastures on which to graze. Leaving the remains for the dupes to clean up who were pumped dry, their institutions raped so that the population pay twice for everything like healthcare, once in taxes and second to the private providers. Might as well put “friends” into the remaining high-paid provincial jobs to seed the future blarney to be spouted to the plebs, just like Trump filling up the US Supreme Court with social regressives. Might as well have the ideologically correct leaders of institutions already planted to lecture everyone as things go completely tits up, to tell them what they believe they see is only a “socialist” fairy tale, and that they, the wonderful people of the land, are just imagining they’re being raped. No room for the old or disabled in their plan either, and people with long term Covid complications? Too bad, you’re on your own.

    Apparently the pudgy premier is currently holed up for a netflix/dorito binge as he self-isolates on a possible second Covid-19 contact. Feeding the personal corporeal body has long been a Jason imperative. Pass the Tums and screw the NDP, says the dyspepsic wannabe emperor of the Western plains, I got mine. Burp. Three more years and Albertans will be grizzled veterans of austerity yet be told it’s wonderful. “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?” sang a very young songstress fifty years ago. Your average Con pol relies on it, putting off the public day of realization for as long as they can.

    Reply
  3. Abs

    November 16th, 2020

    How nice of him not to send this request for input to the alumni of said university, but then this is the tout who intends to eliminate my faculty completely, so why would he care about alumni? Way to go, Flanagan. I’m sure you’ll be rewarded mightily in the UCP afterlife. Just another UCPer doing the work of the dark overlord. Onward to the River Styx, Mr. President. Don’t pay the ferryman, until he gets you to the other side.

    Reply
  4. Dave in Sask

    November 16th, 2020

    The first step should bereducing the salaries of those strictly in administrative role like that of Mr. Flanagan.

    The we will see how enthusiastic he is about the whole thing. Put him on his back foot by suggesting he lead the way, then work down to others like Ms. McDonald.

    When they lead by example teaching and professorial staff will be easier to convince.

    Reply
  5. Doug Mr. Hart, RN

    November 16th, 2020

    Stay healthy David. The public needs your ongoing journalistic insights. Thanks

    Reply
  6. Scotty on Denman

    November 16th, 2020

    So we watch Alberta’s hybrid government, its knee-to-groin approach probably inherited from the K-Boy’s former leader, crossed with the policy absurdism of the lame duck US presidunce: Harper times Trump—or, if you will, ‘Harumpfism’—an astoundingly bizarre compounding of serious afflictions—wildfire-consumed neighbourhoods of the province’s main industrial city, the tanking of that industry, and tens of thousands of layoffs—one might expect that the Covid pandemic could only top these misfortunes off but, almost incredibly, no: the UCP government has piled on with a coffer-gutting gift to said dying industry, hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts, is investing billions more of public money in a pipeline that might yet not be built to take unprofitable dilbit to American refineries, is forcing pay cuts on unionized public sector workers whose legally negotiated contracts have been unconstitutionally torn up, and similar pay cuts for doctors—prompting many to consider emigrating to another province—all while an already harried populace has been further burdened with the Covid pandemic which, one should think, requires more, not fewer health care personnel, and expanded, not reduced, medical facilities. And now this crippling funding-cut to post-secondary education. Oh, and did I mention more esoteric stuff like the anti-nonexistent-anti-Alberta-energy-bogeyman “war room” of tens-of-millions-of-dollar infamy? Okay, then: there it is.

    Gosh!— how much more of this can Albertans take? Oh, well, of course, why not privatize public health care! That’s right, that’s the ticket! Just what a sarcastic hypnotist might prescribe—we already know that privatization only makes health care more expensive (your eyes are getting heavier, heavier…on the count of three…) So, what’s up, doc?— what’s the payoff for the UCP, presuming Albertans will disapprove of these added burdens, if they’re not burdened enough already?

    These policies are patently unhelpful, so, already familiar with the UCP’s politics—how policy gets done—we’ve seen the battered truncheon caked with black gore, and we’re already accustomed to the UCP’s cultivation of partisanship so rarified as to invite odious bigots into the wagon laager and invoke incapability, not mere disinclination, of viewing partisanship as the vehicle for developing policy proposals with which workable compromises can be negotiated with other parties. How is any of this, presuming the UCP’s strategy is to win the next election, supposed to work?

    DJC has pointed out the perfect plausibility of UCP resort to prayer in order to, implausibly, resurrect the once-lucrative bitumen industry in the nick of time, presumably to recuperate the losses inflicted upon the substantial majority of voters who cast for the UCP’s first crack at governing, and then some (even more implausible)— and the current UCP stricture and absurdity be forgotten or forgiven by next election day—at least enough to squeak a win against the NDP which, for the first time in living memory, retained a loyal opposition numerous enough to be competitive, and whose policy whilst in government many Albertans remember dimly, in the privacy of their own dreams, as the last time there were good times.

    God’s probably pretty busy right now, but the Omnipotent One can always give due consideration to K-Boy’s fallen-sparrow petition—although the Master of the Universe would doubtlessly weigh how much a mean-spirited party which inflicts Jobean suffering upon its flock deserves a total rearrangement of global energy markets to profitably accommodate the lowest grade of petroleum (save asphalt). It might be easier to turn the sandy deposit into gold—and I think that’d be wonderful— but that’d prob’ly need more prayer than the mandated term allows, certainly more than a mere human like me can do.

    Any model has to recognize the time window available to the UCP. I must admit I’m still puzzled by the UCP’s impolitic policies. I have offered one model in which voters unlikely to cast for the K-Boy’s party are being systematically chased out of the province by way of increasingly Jobean punishments, rendering the electorate more and more dominated by UCP supporterS—enough to guarantee victory. I know, I know: the socio-economic elements of this hypothesis aren’t quite worked out yet, but at least it includes people, not prayer. Or does it?

    Not being as forgiving as the famous Jeshua, I’d be okay with praying for Albertan people but, forgive me, not so much for the UCP government which is as likely to end up in the hot place Job was eventually absolved of.

    Alls I can say is: Harumpf!

    Reply
    • Death and Gravity

      November 17th, 2020

      “Gosh!— how much more of this can Albertans take?”

      I now I am being tiresome here…call it the jilted-lover syndrome.

      There is no limit to how much more “of this” the Alberta electorate will take. At some point, one must acknowledge that this is what they want, what they have voted for in overwhelming majority in every election since at least the days of King Ralph in the 1990s.

      Yeah, I know there are 35% who think otherwise, mostly in Edmonton. They are not enough. They are no argument for optimism, it’s an argument for dissolving most Provinces and replacing them with independent cities, and Home Rule. That way Edmonton and Calgary can both get what they want, and the rural areas can go pound sand. The Provinces are no longer an effective organising principle, at least west of Ontario, or more properly Upper Canada as was.

      Yes, I am pretty annoyed.

      Reply
  7. Sub-Boreal

    November 16th, 2020

    This U of A alumnus (MSc 1981) will remember this piece the next time that I get a fundraising appeal from the University.

    Reply
  8. jerrymacgp

    November 17th, 2020

    One is forced to wonder why the University of Alberta, the province’s largest, needs a lobbyist to talk to government. Isn’t there a Ministry of Advanced Education responsible for that sector? Do Ministry officials not return the University President’s calls?

    Next thing you know, AHS is going to hire itself a lobbyist to talk to Minister Shandro …

    Can we all say,”redundant”?

    Reply
    • Death and Gravity

      November 17th, 2020

      I wouldn’t call it redundant so much, as an act of desperate realism on the part of the University. “Desperate” because it won’t likely work in this instance, but “realism” in that it acknowledges a dysfunctional, entirely corrupt system of provincial government by unaccountable cronies and a permanent “conservative” political class that is immune to any electoral consequences so long as they don’t aggravate the oil barrons in Calgary and Houston.

      Reply

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