Mr. Cardinal in his later years (Photo:

Mike Cardinal, a member of the Alberta Legislature from 1989 to 2008 and an influential minister in Ralph Klein’s Progressive Conservative cabinet, died on Jan. 12. He was 81. 

The late Ralph Klein, premier of Alberta (Photo: Chuck Szmurlo, Creative Commons).

Melvin Percy Joseph Cardinal, known by all as Mike, was the first Status Indian to hold a cabinet post in Alberta.

He held five portfolios in the Klein Government during the years he served as MLA for Athabasca-Lac La Biche, Athabasca-Wabasca and Athabasca-Redwater, always winning handily.

“I found I had to work twice as hard to get nominated and elected,” Mr. Cardinal told the Windspeaker newspaper in 1993, soon after he was appointed to cabinet. As an Indigenous person, he said, “you have to work very hard to get equal with the other guy.”

In 1988, while running for the PCs for the first time, he told Windspeaker that he believed he was the first First Nations citizen to run for the Conservative party. 

“He dedicated himself to improving the lives of people in Alberta, especially Indigenous people,” the obituary written by his family said. “His dream was for our people to be educated, self-sufficient and successful.”

In 1990, while still a backbencher, Mr. Cardinal sponsored the Metis Settlements and Land Protection Act, which was intended to give Metis settlements ownership of their land, his Wikipedia entry notes

Named family and social services minister in 1992 by Mr. Klein, Mr. Cardinal also held responsibility for Indigenous Relations during his time in that portfolio.

He served in a variety of cabinet roles until 2008, when he chose not to seek re-election. These included the associate minister of forestry, minister of resource development, minister of sustainable resource development, and minister of human resources and employment (as the labour portfolio was known in those days). 

Mr. Cardinal was born in 1941 in the town of Slave Lake into a family of 13. He was the son of a trapper and a homemaker. He dropped out of school in Grade 8 to work but returned later and graduated from Grade 12. Before entering public life, he spent a decade in the Alberta forest and timber industry.

Before his election as an MLA, Mr. Cardinal was a town councillor in Slave Lake and a trustee on the board of Northland School Division No. 61 for six years, three of which he was board chair. 

A traditional wake and pipe ceremony was held in Calling Lake on Jan. 19. 

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  1. While it is sad that Mike Cardinal passed away, his legacy in the Ralph Klein cabinet is nothing to be proud of. He was instrumental in helping Ralph Klein cut benefits to the needy on social assistance. They ended up getting less than $400 per month to live off of. There was also the issue with Assured Income For The Severely Handicapped (AISH), involving benefit issues, which turned out to be a $100,000 boondoogle. In addition, there was a conflict of interest issue involved him fishing on Calling Lake, when Albertans were told not to catch fish there. Ralph Klein doesn’t intrigue me either, because he was the polar opposite of what Peter Lougheed was. In fact, Peter Lougheed was never enthusiastic about Ralph Klein.

    1. Anonymous: I am aware of those controversies, but they were in the distant past and I felt (and feel) this is a more appropriate time to celebrate Mr. Cardinal’s accomplishments, which are significant, than to attack the policies he brought forward, which were inspired by Mr. Klein after all. That said, I would normally not write or run an obituary of this sort for anyone, but I did so in this case because mainstream media, so called, completely missed or ignored the story. Here was the first and possibly the only First Nations person to serve in an Alberta cabinet and media ignores his death. After several days, I contacted a major news organization about this omission and apparently the news tip wasn’t considered worth following up, so I decided I’d better do it myself. This is a sad commentary on the state of news media in Alberta, if you ask me. DJC

  2. I met Mr. Cardinal once, when I was a grad student getting involved in forestry issues in northeastern Alberta. It so happened that a project I was involved with had somehow caused his mother to move her cabin and also interfered with her trapline. I was mortified, but he later told me the cabin had been on skids anyway, and that there’d been no trapping for some years. He was very gracious. I’m sorry to hear that he’s gone. RIP.

  3. off topic..

    dani on Twitter yesterday, meeting with Nate Glubish ….who??
    >>Sherwood Park news-Nov 24<
    the broadband strategy….has been able to secure $390 million in provincial funding and a matching $390 m in federal funding to expand access .
    Hmmm, so Alberta got that much money from, ooooh…., Ottawa??
    using "dirty money" from the feds, OH MY !! separate already…

    Sometimes you just shake your head, especially with today's tweet about how AB will do so much better than the rest of Canada if there's a recession.
    Maybe I should get a tshirt made up
    — born in Alberta, I'm special—

    would be good for a giggle, and how many people would tell me to go back then….smirk…now the question is, are we going to get a few days off before parliament resumes, fingers crossed…

  4. DJC , regarding Mike, reminds me of a clip about SHarper re MMIW, something about, “not on our radar right now “—we have to see if Dani , has anything to say, being as Klein was her hero.

    Sorry for going off topic again, but a follow up on previous comment on Danielle going on “international holiday ” ,which I found a curious choice of words, but then she posted a tweet from the lake at …Banff….photo-op
    Sorry Mike, I guess she didn’t leave the country, I’m taking a wild guess here and going with– the Banff ” International “Hotel— ??? and since she is still working during this time, ie the investigation, is this on the taxpayers money??

  5. I found out about Mr. Cardinal’s passing just a bit before reading this post. I was also surprised there was not any mention of it by the mainstream media in our major cities or by current government officials. Especially as our current Premier Smith has often expressed admiration for Premier Klein, whose cabinet he was in.

    I don’t know why his accomplishments, in particular of being a First Nations member of cabinet, would be overlooked. In part itcI feel it says something about the current state of the main stream media in Alberta.

    I never met him or really knew that much about him, but also agree a few kind and generous words to remember him are appropriate at this time.

  6. David, They are not in the distance see evidence of the 1994 cuts, corporate tax cuts, the flat tax, and billions of dollar subsidies to the oil industry …on the streets everyday. Was the beginning of the pillaging of Alberta.

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