As is typical of the man, Jason Kenney’s cabinet shuffle yesterday, while clearly necessary, was delivered in a slippery manner.

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Leastways, the usual cheerful statement alerting the media that a big upcoming announcement was in the offing appeared in no one’s email inbox before the minimalist news release announcing the shuffle to “fill vacancies left by departing ministers” arrived unheralded on the government website, circa 4 p.m.

With Mr. Kenney officially on the way out and the race to replace him under way, that there was a shuffle was hardly a surprise. 

For example, everyone knew appointing a temporary finance minister to replace Travis Toews, the apparent United Conservative Party Caucus and party establishment favourite to replace Mr. Kenney, wasn’t the right solution for a province transitioning once again from bust to boom thanks to spiking petroleum prices. 

Nevertheless, some Albertans might have thought they ought to have had a chance to ponder and discuss the choice of Government House Leader Jason Nixon as president of Treasury Board and minister of finance before the post was made permanent. That would have been in line with sound practices for cabinet making of the political variety. 

For all we know, the now-former environment minister is eminently qualified for what is probably in the present circumstances the most important portfolio in the cabinet. 

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange (Photo: Facebook).

Still, it would have been nice to have had an opportunity to ask a few questions about the controversy surrounding Mr. Nixon’s two-year gig as president of the Athabasca University students’ association just before the 2015 provincial election.

“In 2015, his student union voted to expel him from the organization for allegedly taking an Executive Director salary while not working for six months, interfering with the student newspaper, raising executive salaries without student consultation, and other bylaw violations,” says Mr. Nixon’s Wikipedia biography, the “controversies” section of which runs to more than 1,600 words, citing student publications from the era. 

“Minutes from the group’s April 21 meeting indicate voting members unanimously approved pulling $16,913 from a surplus budget account and adding it to their executive wages,” a Huffington Post story, part of which remains online, said at the time.

An article in an Athabasca student newspaper, political blogger Dave Cournoyer reported in May 2015, “described Mr. Nixon as being ‘the highest paid Student Executive in Alberta.’”

Now, having been the editor of a student newspaper myself many years ago, I can assure readers that such publications are neither authoritative nor necessarily even reliable.

Lord Chief Justice Hewart (Photo: Public Domain).

But as Lord Chief Justice Hewart famously observed in 1924, it “is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”

However, that’s not the way Premier Kenney does things, and we Albertans are left to deal with an announcement made “at the strike of trash o’clock,” as CBC journalist Jason Markusoff put it late yesterday in a scathing commentary on the shuffle.

“Departing premiers before Kenney, like Ralph Klein and Ed Stelmach, handled similar shuffles with more of the transparency and accountability that cabinet reorganizations normally get,” Mr. Markusoff observed, accurately.

In addition to Mr. Nixon, Calgary-Glenmore MLA Whitney Issik replaces him as environment minister. She was shuffled into cabinet not quite a year ago as associate minister of status of women – replacing Leela Aheer, now a candidate for Mr. Kenney’s job, who had just been kicked out of cabinet by the premier for criticizing his mid-pandemic Sky Palace patio party. 

Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard (Photo: Ribbet32, Creative Commons).

Jackie Armstrong Homeniuk, MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, becomes associate minister of status of women.

Matt Jones, MLA for Calgary-South East, becomes children’s services minister, replacing leadership candidate Rebecca Schulz.

Calgary-Foothills MLA Prasad Panda switches from the infrastructure portfolio to transportation, replacing another leadership candidate, Rajan Sawhney. Mr. Panda, in turn, is replaced at infrastructure by Calgary-Currie MLA Nicholas Milliken.

Brad Rutherford, MLA for Leduc-Beaumont and deputy government whip was named chief government whip and minister without portfolio, which will allow him to be called “the Honourable” for the rest of his life without actually having to do much extra work. 

In addition, the shuffle involved some non-ministerial changes:

Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard, kicked out of cabinet after an unauthorized a mid-pandemic winter holiday in January 2021, and Camrose MLA Jackie Lovely become members of Treasury Board. 

Justice Minister Shandro becomes chair of the Community and Families Cabinet Policy Committee while Education Minister Adriana LaGrange joins the Priorities Implementation Cabinet Committee. As regular readers of this blog will know, neither have been stellar performers in cabinet.

Mr. Kenney may have concluded the appointments will boost the flagging fortunes of some of the beneficiaries in upcoming election battles with the Opposition NDP. 

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17 Comments

  1. Anyway you look at it, this is the UCP’s equivalency of shuffling the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. Another issue of concern is why the head honcho of the UCP is still in his position, after he said he would be stepping down? These pretend conservatives and Reformers constantly prove that they cannot be trusted, because they are good liars.

    1. As for why Kenney is still Premier, after announcing his resignation, well there is certainly precedent for that, since both Stelmach and Klein did exactly the same thing.
      Lougheed, apparently your idol, may have done the same thing as well – I can’t find complete information, but there appears to be no interim Premier between him and Getty.

  2. Putting Nixon in charge of our funds is like putting a fox in charge of the hen house. You can bet he will be helping more of the rich steal our oil and tax wealth while he tries to buy votes for the UCP. David is right changes had to be made but Jason Kenney’s pal Jason Nixon was not a good choice. These Reformers just don’t get it Albertans have had it with all of them and I can’t find anyone who is going to be dumb enough to vote for any of them. They had their chance and blew it.

    1. Unfortunately the last two polls, including one from Leger (who showed the NDP well ahead in their last poll) show the UCP ahead by two percent. So basically a dead heat.
      Perhaps a few more blunders over the summer will swing things back to NDP’s way, or the disappointment in whoever gets elected leader will handicap the UCP. However, with oil prices high, the pandemic over, and a UCP leadership campaign to focus the attention of the public and raise funds, I am very much afraid this will be an uphill battle for the NDP.

    2. Alan K. Spiller: There were Albertans, like myself, who were smart enough to start with, and we knew better than to vote for the UCP. Also, anyone who said the UCP were bad, were called nasty names, or ignored. Did these people show any regret now?

  3. Right now, Kenney’s days appear to be numbered (Unless there’s some kind of coup that will assure that Kenney remains the shadow premier for life.) so this shuffle isn’t much more than a means of doling out more patronage to the loyalists, pumping up those salaries and expenses, and making sure that Mr. Toes has all the leverage he needs to pad his own list of promises. Duck soup, right?

    Of course, given that Danielle Smith is ginning up the tin foil hat crowd, it’s hard to say when or if Mr. Toes decides to appeal to the more demented element of the UCP legions. As for Ginger Kenney, he seems to be staying quiet and watching and waiting for everyone to shoot themselves in the face.

    Skippy Polivere isn’t chatting up crypto anymore, so the strange will just keep getting stranger.

  4. It doesn’t seem to be a resounding vote of confidence in Mr. Nixon in particular, in how the cabinet appointment was handled. First he was temporary then the late day announcement.

    I wonder if Kenney was hesitating, expecting a negative reaction from his own party or others. Of course Kenney is free to appoint who he wants and it may not matter that much to opponents as Kenney will be gone soon and someone else will make their own choices.

    In a way this could also be seen as another shot against Jean who has said some negative things about Nixon. Maybe it is also Kenney’s own uncertainty given Nixon’s controversial past and present.

    Unfortunately, there may not have been anyone available with the required loyalty and a higher level of competence.

    So the Kenney regime may continue to stumble on to its inevitable end. If the Premier wanted to end on a high note, it was probably not a good idea to put a bull in a China shop with a controversial past into such a high profile and important position. I suspect even Kenney knows this, but then good decisions were never the hallmark of his ill fared regime.

    1. Nixon does not have the resume to be Finance Minister. That aside, the most important task for the Finance Minister over the next few years will be saying “no” to budget increases, wage settlements and hiring requests. AB cannot afford allocating what will likely be its last revenue windfall to anything other than debt retirement. Higher inflation could expedite the end of AB’s health and education overfunding if the government can keep budget increase substantially under inflation plus population growth. The most recent UNA contract has a step in the right direction, 4.25% over 4 years when inflation will likely run 4 precent plus PA.

    1. Many people are saying the Untied Conservative Party is working on those portfolios during the daily Kenney government Standing Permanent Select Committee on Safety Meetings meetings.

      Jason heard slurring, “I’ll drink to that, but not the cheap stuff!”

      “Churning BS into butter, coz butter always pays” – Les Claypool

  5. Difficult for me to see what this shuffle is intended to accomplish. The CBC article DJC links ends with some excellent questions that Mr. Kenney will not bother having to non-answer. It points out that most of the people being shuffled in are in Edmonton and Calgary, so maybe this is about raising their visibility right before they go to the polls?

    I can’t think that makes a difference one way or the other. I think the results of the next election are already baked in, the variable at play is not “which actions does the government take?” but “are Albertans going to accept responsibility for their beliefs?”

    If a majority of Albertans care enough to try to engage with true facts, every one of these toadying mendicants is going to be shown the door. Raising their visibility will just mean that people will remember the jokes told at their expense a little longer. If a majority of Albertans continue to revel in their right to believe easily falsifiable nonsense, the UCP is invincible, and they can, to slightly paraphrase another famous know-nothing scumbag, “shoot somebody and not lose voters.”

  6. Great leaders know when to step aside. Alberta does not have a great leader. This one will not go until he is pushed out and the door is slammed in his face, like an unwanted lingering guest at a 2 a.m. fête. There’s nobody in his party to do that. So it continues…

  7. Off-topic again, but what might be Trudeau’s biggest bonehead move is coming back to haunt the taxpayer. Mainstream Albertan voters will have completely forgotten when Trudeau forced the Canadian taxpayer to buy them a pipeline, but a quick refresher – Justin travelled all over the country telling everyone who would listen that “only communities can grant social license to pipelines” then proceeded to force a pipeline upon a bunch of unwilling communities (who voted for him because they didn’t want a pipeline!) to appease a bunch of willfully ignorant know-nothings and oil tycoons who hate his guts and wouldn’t vote for him if you dipped him in bitumen, rolled him in million dollar bills, and then had him gold-plated. Everyone and their dog who wasn’t directly employed by the oil patch pointed out that a)you can’t reduce emissions while doubling the amount of freaking bitumen you extract because math, b) this is not even going to be a profitable project because by the time it is up and running the grown-ups of the world aren’t going to want to buy the most pollution-intensive form of oil that humanity has yet discovered, c)selling more oil to China doesn’t actually do anything for Canada’s energy security and is pretty risky besides as China does not do business with anyone unless they can simultaneously coerce them into helping spread “President” Xi’s brand of authoritarian thuggishness, and d)Justin squandered political capital by breaking core campaign promises in order to serve people who hate him for bad reasons while alienating people who voted for him for good reasons. The Liberal party has existed for more than a century, how did they not have a staffer capable of pointing any of that out to JT in real time? Oh right, never mind, they are well aware that the first past the post system means they can do basically whatever they want and Canadians will vote for them to keep the Conservatives out. As an aside, if the CPC ever gets tired of the Liberal party being in charge, all they need to do is disband! Liberals couldn’t get elected to a student council without being able to use the Conservatives to scare people.

    As per https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/budget-officer-trans-mountain-expansion-1.6497263 we now have the Parliamentary Budget Officer also saying this project will lose money. Mrs. Freeland’s spokesperson says damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Y’see, independent analyses from BMO Capital Markets and TD Securities say this project will still make money. They also say that if you pull the other one, it plays Judas Priest, and they remind you that THEY wouldn’t touch a project with this amount of risk and absolutely no ROI, but YOU should.

    I remember those far-off days back in 2018 where this project was audited and was expected to cost 7.4 billion. Now it’s expected to cost 21.4 billion, at least they got the .4 part right I guess? Meanwhile, the plan is for the taxpayer to hopefully break even on this after assuming an absolute ton of risk. Oh, there’s also that old Neoliberal song and dance about how “taxing workers wages and economic growth will make up the void caused by allowing wealthy people to legally evade their taxes and avoid all forms of government regulation, which we must do lest they take the jobs elsewhere.” Canadians are such a bunch of infuriatingly witless chumps sometimes, I swear.

    I get that this qualifies as Extra-Double-Fake News in Alberta and I’d hate to get a War Room sicced on me, but I am regularly reading articles citing credible scientists about how we’ve blown past a whole bunch of tipping points, and even if we decide to act like adults and take responsibility today, a bunch of terrible things are going to happen in the coming decades. Oh well, I’m reasonably sure we’ll have discovered a way to drink money by the time we’re done wasting all our fresh water.

  8. We know the leadership candidates, probably most of caucus, maybe a majority of party members, who knows how many party voters, and perhaps a better estimate of how many Albertans have agreed to level the contest’s playing field for the good of the party. Acquiescing to the suspension of public Covid mandates was the very least the party had to do, and I believe even those Cornola Hoaxiphiliacs who mightn’t cotton to the requisite burial of the Covid hatchet will keep their venom to themselves for at least as long’s it takes to settle the matter of replacing the rookie MLA and premier, the Cobfather hisse’f, Jason Kenney.

    It can’t be other than every move, every utterance, or every glance doesn’t have some importance from now until the K-Boy is free once more to KeKangaroo wherever he will across the sloping plain. The taught web stretched o’re the tawny green-black mottle is sensitive to the smallest gnat’s wingbeat. Noseeums? Heh, Can’t-miss’ems, more like it.

    It’s all democratically good, I suppose—except that Kenney’s new cabinet cannot be anything but unlike any other, given the circumstances of legacy-building and successor beggaring-or-favouring undoubtedly going on in, but not on camera.

    The problem is that whatever these machinations are, Albertans will probably not be fully apprised in time to pass cogent, well informed judgment at the ballot box come that raptfurious day. I sincerely hope that fact, this “missing tape,” will be enough for voters to apply at least some precautionary principle, adding that to the embarrassing wealth of factors they will weigh come the big day.

    This cabinet has shenanigan potential written all over it. It will be remarkable if every candidate doesn’t choke up something lake-ish, or even fire-ish about these blinded scales.

  9. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fattest of them all?

    I am, and I’m off to Washington to eat even more!

    Fortunately, someone else pays my expenses.

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