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