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

Minister’s claim his chief of staff’s troubles were news to him, raises eyebrows, prompts doubts

Posted on November 01, 2021, 1:03 am
9 mins

Judging from the reaction on social media, not a lot of Albertans believed Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer when he told a news reporter last week it wasn’t his decision in February to fire his former chief of staff, Ariella Kimmel.

After the story broke last Thursday that Ms. Kimmel had filed a lawsuit claiming she was unjustly fired for complaining about sexual harassment in a workplace where open drinking and abusive behaviour were tolerated, Mr. Schweitzer told reporters he wasn’t aware of her allegations. 

Former Progressive Conservative Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“You know what? A lot of the information that came out in the media yesterday was new to me,” Mr. Schweitzer said, raising eyebrows all around the province. “That being said, you know, Ariella Kimmel is an excellent staffer, I’ve been a reference for her after she, you know, departed from the Legislature, and I’d still be a reference for her today.”

He went on to say: “Those decisions weren’t mine to make. That being said, I really enjoyed working with her, she’s an excellent staffer, and … I’d work with her again.”

In an edited recording circulating on social media, Mr. Schweitzer also made a rather pro forma denunciation of sexual harassment in the workplace.

In an interview with CTV, Mr. Schweitzer admitted he’d heard “rumblings third- and fourth-hand” about sexual harassment in the Premier’s Office – but indicated Ms. Kimmel hadn’t come to him about what she was experiencing. 

If Mr. Schweitzer thought that would be the end of the matter, he was bound to be disappointed. 

The instant reaction suggested the minister was almost universally disbelieved. 

That’s weird, former Progressive Conservative deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk tweeted. A cabinet minister “didn’t know that his Chief of Staff was sexually harassed and had no idea who fired her and why”?

Alberta United Conservative Party Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

“Chiefs of Staff report only to the minister and shadow his every step,” Mr. Lukaszuk went on. “They are his confidants. Someone is lying here…”

Who gets to be the ministerial chief of staff, Mr. Lukaszuk told me, “is not a position that can be picked for a minister.”

So if Mr. Schweitzer is claiming steps were being taken to fire his chief of staff, “the minister is either lying, is totally incompetent, or the chief of staff knew that she could not trust him either,” he said.

Still, while this may make me the only person in Alberta who is inclined to believe Mr. Schweitzer, it can’t be ruled out he wasn’t told what was happening. This isn’t a compliment, of course.

It’s necessary to pause here and remind ourselves that, on paper, the way ministerial chiefs of staff and press secretaries are hired, and much less frequently fired, has been the same under Alberta’s Progressive Conservative, New Democratic Party and UCP governments. 

That is, under all three parties these political appointees are all technically employees of the Premier’s Office, normally reporting to both the premier’s chief of staff and the minister they serve.

Former Alberta premier, now Opposition Leader, Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

That said, different governments have different styles of business. 

According to Mr. Lukaszuk, who entered cabinet under Premier Ed Stelmach and remained there throughout Alison Redford’s premiership, “under the PCs, each minister assembled their own team.” No matter who signed the contract, he said, chiefs of staff were selected by the minister.

This was not necessarily the case under the NDP, which took a more centralized approach to these important appointments under premier Rachel Notley’s first chief of staff, Brian Topp. Nor did NDP chiefs of staff necessarily go everywhere their minister went as Mr. Lukaszuk described. More likely, they would remain in Edmonton to run the office. 

As for Premier Kenney’s office, judging from what happened to Ms. Kimmel and what Mr. Schweitzer has to say about it, all decisions appear to be made in the Premier’s Office with little or no input from ministers. Whether they are made by the premier’s chief of staff, or by Mr. Kenney himself, is open to debate. Given Premier Kenney’s notoriety as a micromanager, the latter is not inconceivable. 

Former Alberta Progressive Conservative Premer Alison Redford (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Since Mr. Schweitzer was demoted by Mr. Kenney from the important Justice portfolio to his current largely symbolic ministry in August 2020, he’s clearly not been part of the premier’s inner clique, so it is entirely believable he was left right out of the loop. 

While working relationships between NDP ministers and their chiefs of staff may not typically have been as close as Mr. Lukaszuk describes, if rumours were flying around of sexual harassment, office drinking and other shenanigans under the Dome, it’s a pretty bad sign if a minister didn’t connect the dots, or think to ask what was going on. 

“If he didn’t know, then he’s a pariah with respect the premier and his office, which may be possible,” said one well-placed former Notley Government insider. If he didn’t ask questions when he learned his chief of staff was being fired, said another, “what kind of a minister was he, anyway?”

Regardless, surely it’s inconceivable that someone from the Premier’s Office didn’t have a quiet chat with Mr. Schweitzer when it was decided Ms. Kimmel had to go? 

Or is it? With the level of competence displayed by the Premier’s Office these days, nothing should surprise us.

If the premier’s staff had been on the ball, surely they would have settled quietly with Ms. Kimmel, instead of allowing the cabinet’s dirty laundry to be aired in public.

What little we know about how this mess unfolded certainly doesn’t make Mr. Schweitzer look like a credible candidate to replace Mr. Kenney, if that’s what he hopes to do in the event the premier is persuaded to take a walk in the snow – which is bound to start falling any day now. 

CORRECTION: Doug Schweitzer was demoted from minister of justice to minister of jobs, economy and innovation in August 2020. An incorrect date appeared in an earlier version of this story.

18 Comments to: Minister’s claim his chief of staff’s troubles were news to him, raises eyebrows, prompts doubts

  1. Dave

    November 1st, 2021

    First of all, the rampant day drinking does help explain somewhat the flurry of bad decisions by the UCP over the last few years.

    Second, Schweitzer and a number of supposedly high powered UCP cabinet ministers do not come out of this latest debacle looking good. It not only hurts Kenney, but a number of possible successors.

    Strangely, I too tend to believe Schweitzer’s denials. I would not be surprised he was not kept in the loop, although it is possible in this tawdry situation he may have preferred and tried to keep it that way. I don’t think Kenney and Schweitzer were ever very close, although for a while I am sure Kenney found him useful to keep him nearer by.

    Lastly, I am not surprised Kenney did not settle the sexual harassment matter before it became public. A few things we know about Kenney is he is intractable, stubborn, has trouble admitting he is wrong and doesn’t like to back down even when it would be the best tactic. He is very consistent in his character, but in this situation, it again is not a good thing.

    Reply
  2. e.a.f.

    November 1st, 2021

    If he didn’t know what was going on in his department he ought to quit or be fired. If a Cabinet Minister says he didn’t know about sexual harassment/firing he is either being loose with the truth or just plain old stupid. If he thinks people will believe him, good luck. Most people aren’t as stupid as he appears to be. Perhaps if the Albertans really want a version of Conservative government they could check to see what Allison Redford is doing these days. She’d be a whole lot better than Jason and his gang. Of course Notley would do the best job, but it seems Albertans don’t recognize talent when its there. They seem to have a thing for old white guys When I was a kid, back in the well a long time ago, we had Newfie jokes. Then we had Surrey jokes in the 80s and 90s. Looks like Alberta is up next but what goes on there isn’t a joke, its people’s lives, an economy, governce, the climate, etc. Jason and the gang need to leave and quickly while there is still something to save in Alberta

    Reply
  3. Just Me

    November 1st, 2021

    So how does governance work in the government of Premier Crying & Screaming Midget?

    I suggest that, if Schweitzer is being truthful, ministers have no control who their chiefs of staff are. I suggest they, for the most part, have little say in anything that goes on in their respective ministries. Does Kenney trust any of his ministers? I say he does not. Taking it a step further, there may even be layers of control that include members of the Premier’s inner circle, that most certainly include Jason Nixon, Matt Wolf, and Devin Dreesen.

    If Ms. Kimmel took her concerns to Nixon and Wolf, and not Schweitzer, that establishes pretty well how the chain of command works. And as Kimmel discovered, the chain of command is designed to lose things and keep them away from the premier.

    If Kenney lives in a manufactured reality where he’s happily left completely ignorant of the more pressing concerns, like a collapsed public health system, he can go about his business inventing policies based on weird ideological precepts and CON myths.

    It’s no longer a question of where did Kenney disappear to last August? The question that should be asked is was Kenney ever there?

    I recall in one of my early encounters with a young Jason Kenney years ago, he struck me as one of these people who needs to bend reality to his whims. If there’s even a hit of doubt in what he believes is going on, that’s when the screaming starts. These days, Kenney has an entourage of flunkies and gombas to protect him from the disasters his actions cause.

    I suspect Kenney must be envious of despots, like Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and the amazing tailor-made realities they live it. Despots and tyrants have it good, until the fall.

    Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      November 2nd, 2021

      “So how does governance work in the government of Premier Crying & Screaming Midget?” Answer: clearly, it doesn’t. Kenney has demonstrated, time & time again, that while he’s very skilled at politicking — which is how he got to be Premier in the first place, as well as how he managed to merge the formerly feuding PC & Wildrose parties — he’s pretty crappy at governing.

      Let’s be clear: Ministers’ Chiefs of Staff are not part of the professional permanent public service; the senior public servant in every government department is the Deputy Minister. Chiefs of Staff are part of the so-called “exempt political staff”, who serve at the pleasure of the Premier or Minister in whose office they work, and turn over with any change of government. (As an aside, it’s a mystery to me why these people are paid from the public purse at all, rather than by the party, but that’s a question for another day). Hiring, disciplining & firing of political staff falls solely on the politicians themselves, not on the public service.

      Reply
  4. tom

    November 1st, 2021

    Typo alert. Paragraph 13 should be “compliment,” Dave.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      November 1st, 2021

      Thank you, Tom. It’s been fixed. DJC

      Reply
  5. Public Servant

    November 1st, 2021

    Is Mr. Schweitzer a liar, incompetent or both?

    This question applies to every UCP politician. Maybe they are taking after Mr. Kenney who is an accomplished liar and utterly incompetent.

    Reply
  6. Carlos

    November 1st, 2021

    How can people be such jerks that actually try to pretend he just did not anything about it? Rumors?
    LOL only in the fantasyland these people have created. Each of them better than the others in creating their lies.
    I cannot wait for the fall

    Reply
  7. Murphy

    November 1st, 2021

    Tailgunner Jay has become a liability for the John Birch/Rotarian/Petroleum alliance, but he can still count on the corporate media to fight a rearguard action. I spent half of Friday listening to right-wing talk radio, and there was not a peep about this affair, and non-stop peddling of the proposed Preußische Geheimpolizei that the Kons want to form as a replacement for the guys who did such bang-up work with the Air India and Pickton cases, not to mention their kindly devotion to watching over elderly leftists during the October crisis, their dry-run for the recent “Project Wide Awake”.
    https://thetyee.ca/News/2020/11/16/You-Have-Zero-Privacy-RCMP-Web-Spying/

    If Doug Scheisser(sp?) can’t wash this one off, can we look forward to the dynamic and charismatic Nixon brothers building a New Camelot on the North Saskatchewan? As usual, it’s a win-win dilemma for the people of Alberta.

    Reply
  8. Scotty on Denman

    November 1st, 2021

    Why would it be that NDP chiefs of staff stay behind to manage the office whilst their ministers are away, but Conservative (using the term loosely) chiefs of staff have to shadow their own minsters’ every move? Could it be that the latter stripe of minsters really needs to be so closely watched else they get themselves into trouble, but the former kind of chiefs can trust their NDP ministers to behave themselves whilst on their own?

    One seems modernly responsible and well behaved, the other seems typically old-boy-hoy-hoy-hoy: “did you bring the bundling board, or are you *hic* jush glad to she me *hic*?”

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      November 1st, 2021

      Some ministers are more dependable than others in both UCP and NDP cabinets. Staffing decisions are made with such factors in mind. DJC

      Reply
  9. Hammer

    November 1st, 2021

    Chicago Blackhawks?

    Reply
  10. Anonymous

    November 1st, 2021

    I just don’t believe anything the UCP has to say, and I don’t trust them either. They are as bad as a provincial government can be. In fact they are the worst.

    Reply
    • Alan K Spiller

      November 1st, 2021

      What a surprise this is a lawyer saying it. I told a lawyer to his face about 40years that I considered lawyers to be nothing more than trained liars and oddly enough he agreed with me that many are.

      Reply
  11. Phlogiston

    November 1st, 2021

    Never mind the question about what kind of minister Schweitzer is; the more important question is what kind of human being he is. Being fired or losing a job for any reason can be an extremely traumatic and upsetting event. The fact that he did not do anything to reach out to his former chief of staff or try to find out what had caused her to leave shows a profound lack of empathy and sympathy. Why would you not want to find out whether someone you worked closely with is doing okay? If you have spent any time as conscious, moral adult in the workforce you would know that more often than not people are damaged by job loss.

    The lack of sympathy and empathy is, however, par for the course for this government, one that places ideology and saving face above human lives, as we have seen during this pandemic.

    Reply
  12. Gromster

    November 1st, 2021

    Jason Kenney is ideologically impaired on two levels – politically and personally. Politically, his unwillingness to pull his head out of his neo-liberal sandbox renders him incapable of dealing with environmental and social issues with initiatives other than market driven measures (ie: privatization). Personally, his inability to recognize harassment, bullying and other dynamics as more than workplace irritants, underlies his failure to effectively govern a province, competently lead a political party and properly promote healthy working conditions for his staff.

    Reply
  13. ema

    November 1st, 2021

    Schweitzer doesn’t strike me as “the sharpest knife in the drawer” for many reasons. He is now in his second portfolio and he still doesn’t seem to have grasped the importance of a ministerial posting, as he meanders aimlessly from one screwup to the next.

    Last month he blocked many (primarily women) who took him to task for saying that women took time off during the pandemic. His lack of awareness as to *why* women left the workforce was unbelievable, given that he is now Minister of Jobs!

    To say that he didn’t know (or notice) that his COS was suddenly gone is a bridge too far. Was he yet another of the cabinet members who was away sunning himself over an extended Christmas break and had his phone shut off?

    Obviously JK doesn’t have the luxury at this time of punting him to another portfolio, but that speaks volumes about the lack of bench strength; also, that poor performance is a feature, not a bug, of this heinous tribe now in office.

    Reply
  14. Just Me

    November 1st, 2021

    Now that the UCP government has reached the point of they-just-don’t-care-anymore, one wonders what other shenanigans will come to light?

    Since day drinking seems to be the norm in ministerial offices, I suspect that there will be more news of clownish behaviour coming to light. Since, the models for how to be a government seems to have come from the episodes of “The Office” and “Parks & Recreation”, I expect there to be more news of crazy coming down the pipe before long.

    Office pool betting on COVID infections, ICU admissions, and deaths.

    Drinking games centring around the daily pressers …

    When Rick Bell recalls a personal experience that SOMEHOW applies to some event of the day … take a drink.

    Take a drink each time Dr. Hinshaw can expand on the wording of “concerning” to amplify how VERY concerned she is … take a drink.

    And take a drink every time hand-sanitizer is used dramatically, or every time it looks like Adriana LeGrande is about to fall asleep while speaking about something, something about education curriculum.

    I await the confirmation of my worst notions.

    Reply

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