Alberta Premier Danielle Smith introduced her new cabinet Friday, shuffling familiar faces, tinkering with some titles, keeping former leadership rivals close while welcoming back two exiled political veterans.
Smith’s 25-member team – down from 27 in her first cabinet last fall – were sworn in during a ceremony at Government House.
“I am so pleased to have this team working with me to deliver on the promises we made to Albertans during the election,” Smith said in a news release.
“These are not just our government’s priorities, they are Albertans’ priorities. The next four years start today, and I can’t wait to get back to work with each of my cabinet colleagues.”
Nate Horner has been tapped to lead Finance, Mickey Amery takes over in Justice and Adriana LaGrange moves to Health from her old job in Education.
Brian Jean, Rajan Sawhney, Todd Loewen and Rebecca Schulz — all contenders in the United Conservative Party leadership — return to Smith’s cabinet table.
Jean will head up Energy and Minerals, Sawhney takes over Advanced Education and Schulz is to lead Environment and Protected Areas.
Loewen returns in the newly renamed Forestry and Parks job.
Smith lost a lot of cabinet experience when veteran ministers retired or were defeated in last month’s election. Two returning stalwarts, Jason Nixon and Ric McIver, were dropped from Smith’s original cabinet Oct. 24 but are back at the table.
Nixon is in charge of Seniors, Community and Social Services. He was the top lieutenant to former premier Jason Kenney, serving as government house leader and Environment minister. After Kenney quit and Smith took over, Nixon was still viewed in caucus as part of the discredited Kenney administration and was moved to the backbenches.
McIver, with a decade of experience in the legislature under multiple portfolios, is back in his old job of Municipal Affairs.
Other cabinet ministers are also back with big promotions.
Amery, with no cabinet experience until Smith appointed him Children’s Services minister last year, takes a big leap forward to Justice.
One of three lawyers in Smith’s 48-member caucus, Amery inherits a controversial portfolio. He is the fifth person to hold the job in the last four years under the UCP.
One former UCP justice minister, Kaycee Madu, was found to have tried to interfere in the administration of justice by calling up Edmonton’s police chief to complain about a traffic ticket.
Last month, the province’s ethics commissioner concluded Smith sought to undermine the rule of law by pressuring Amery’s predecessor, Tyler Shandro, to drop a criminal case against a protester at a U.S. border blockade.
LaGrange’s Health job is viewed as critical, as Smith pledged to reduce wait times for emergency care and surgeries and to make changes to ensure more Albertans can see a family doctor.
Horner, who earned plaudits for his work in Agriculture and Irrigation, will have to navigate keeping Alberta’s books balanced while also finding money to pay for a $1-billion-a-year tax reduction pledge promised by Smith.
Demetrios Nicolaides effectively switches classrooms, moving from Advanced Education to Education.
Matt Jones moves from Affordability and Utilities to the new Jobs, Economy and Trade.
Rick Wilson returns as Indigenous Relations minister. With Nicolaides and LaGrange switching portfolios, he is the only minister named in Kenney’s original 2019 cabinet to be in the same job four years later.
Mike Ellis has emerged as a key lieutenant to Smith. The former Calgary police officer returns in the Public Safety and Emergency Services portfolio but is also her deputy premier. He is expected to play a pivotal role in Smith’s promised legislation to force addicts into treatment as a last resort.
Devin Dreeshen stays in place as minister for Transportation and Economic Corridors.
Calgary member Tanya Fir’s roller-coaster political career is back on the upswing, heading to the newly renamed Arts, Culture and Status of Women ministry.
Fir was part of the Kenney’s original cabinet as Economic Development minister, but was dropped from cabinet, brought back in as a Jobs minister only to be dropped by Smith in October.
The Status of Women portfolio is also back on the rise after falling from a cabinet portfolio to an associate ministry under Kenney, then out of cabinet altogether under Smith.
Smith has said because the NDP took all 20 Edmonton seats in the election, she will rely more on cabinet ministers Nate Glubish, Dale Nally and Searle Turton, who represent constituencies near the capital.
Glubish remains in Technology and Innovation and Nally stays as minister for Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction.
Turton, a second-term member, gets his first cabinet job in the renamed Children and Family Services ministry.
Nathan Neudorf is no longer deputy premier or Infrastructure minister, taking over Affordability and Utilities.
Peter Guthrie moves from Energy to Infrastructure.
Joseph Schow returns as government house leader and as minister for the new Tourism and Sport position.
Calgary backbencher Muhammad Yaseen, previously an associate immigration minister under Kenney, attains full cabinet rank as minister for Immigration and Multiculturalism.
Dan Williams, a second-term MLA, gets his first shot in cabinet with Mental Health and Addiction.
RJ Sigurdson gets his first cabinet assignment, taking over from Horner in Agriculture and Irrigation.
The job titles remain the same for the most part with some slight revisions. Loewen, for example, loses the Tourism responsibility from his old job.
The Jobs, Economy and Northern Development portfolio has dropped Northern Development and will add in Trade responsibilities instead.
The Seniors title, dropped last fall by Smith, returns in Nixon’s new job.
The Skilled Trades and Professions portfolio has been dropped all together.
There is still no dedicated Labour ministry.
The government is set to return to the house in October and faces a large 38-member Opposition NDP that, along with sweeping Edmonton, took a big bite out of UCP support in Calgary.
The NDP now represents more than half the seats in Calgary.
Smith’s caucus will also be further reduced.
While the UCP won 49 seats in the election, Smith said newly elected Lacombe-Ponoka member Jennifer Johnson is not welcome in caucus given her public comments late last year comparing transgender students to feces in cookie dough. Johnson will sit as an Independent.
UCP member Nathan Cooper is expected to return as Speaker, meaning Smith’s team will have an even slimmer majority in the 87-seat legislature.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2023.
Regulator rules in favour of Trans Mountain route deviation
Workers place pipe during construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on farmland, in Abbotsford, B.C., on Wednesday, May 3, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
By Amanda Stephenson in Calgary
The Canada Energy Regulator has approved Trans Mountain Corp.’s application to modify the pipeline’s route, a decision that could spare the government-owned pipeline project from an additional nine-month delay.
The regulator made the ruling Tuesday, just one week after hearing oral arguments from Trans Mountain and a B.C. First Nation that opposes the route change.
It didn’t release the reasons for its decision Tuesday, saying those will be publicized in the coming weeks.
By siding with Trans Mountain Corp., the regulator is allowing the pipeline company to alter the route slightly for a 1.3-kilometre stretch of pipe in the Jacko Lake area near Kamloops, B.C., as well as the construction method for that section.
Trans Mountain Corp. had said it ran into engineering difficulties in the area related to the construction of a tunnel, and warned that sticking to the original route could result in up to a nine-month delay in the pipeline’s completion, as well as an additional $86 million more in project costs.
Trans Mountain has been hoping to have the pipeline completed by early 2024.
But Trans Mountain’s application was opposed by the Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Nation, whose traditional territory the pipeline crosses and who had only agreed to the originally proposed route.
In their regulatory filing, the First Nation stated the area has “profound spiritual and cultural significance” to their people, and that they only consented to the pipeline’s construction with the understanding that Trans Mountain would minimize surface disturbances by implementing specific trenchless construction methods.
The Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc argued that Trans Mountain never said its originally proposed construction method was impossible, only that it couldn’t be done in time to meet a Jan. 1 in-service date for the pipeline.
The First Nation didn’t respond to a request for comment by publication time.
The Trans Mountain pipeline is Canada’s only pipeline system transporting oil from Alberta to the West Coast. Its expansion, which is currently underway, will boost the pipeline’s capacity to 890,000 barrels per day (bpd) from 300,000 bpd currently.
The pipeline — which was bought by the federal government for $4.5 billion in 2018 after previous owner Kinder Morgan Canada Inc. threatened to scrap the pipeline’s planned expansion project in the face of environmentalist opposition and regulatory hurdles — has already been plagued by construction-related challenges and delays.
Its projected price tag has since spiralled: first to $12.6 billion, then to $21.4 billion and most recently to $30.9 billion (the most recent capital cost estimate, as of March of this year).
Keith Stewart with Greenpeace Canada said it’s alarming to see the regulator over-rule the wishes of Indigenous people in order to complete a pipeline on deadline.
“Every Canadian should be outraged that our public regulator is allowing a publicly owned pipeline to break a promise to Indigenous people to protect lands of spiritual and cultural significance,” Stewart said.
The federal government has already approved a total of $13 billion in loan guarantees to help Trans Mountain secure the financing to cover the cost overruns.
Trans Mountain Corp. has blamed its budget problems on a variety of factors, including inflation, COVID-19, labour and supply chain challenges, flooding in B.C. and unexpected major archeological discoveries along the route.
Given the Canadian regulatory system has a reputation for being slow and cumbersome, it was surprising to see the Canada Energy Regulator rule so quickly on Trans Mountain’s route deviation request, said Richard Masson, executive fellow with the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy.
“It’s a challenging decision to have to make, when you’ve got a $30 billion pipeline that needs to be completed,” Masson said.
“If there’s no feasible way to do that tunnel, then I guess you have to allow for this.”
Masson added that if the regulator had denied Trans Mountain’s request, it would have been bad news for taxpayers as well as the federal government, which is seeking to divest the pipeline and has already entered into negotiations with several interested Indigenous-led buyers.
It also would have been bad news for Canadian oil companies, who have been eagerly anticipating the pipeline’s start date to begin shipping barrels to customers.
“If this can result in the pipeline being completed by year-end and started up in the first quarter, that’s good news. The world is still looking for oil, and oil prices are up at US$90 a barrel,” Masson said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2023.
Partial settlement approved in lawsuit against Calgary Stampede over abuse of boys
A judge has approved a partial settlement in a class-action lawsuit against the Calgary Stampede that alleged the organization allowed a performance school staffer to sexually abuse young boys.
Phillip Heerema received a 10-year prison sentence in 2018 after pleading guilty to charges including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, child pornography and luring.
Heerema admitted to using his position with the Young Canadians School of Performing Arts, which performs each year in the Calgary Stampede Grandstand Show, to lure and groom six boys into sexual relationships.
The school is operated by the Calgary Stampede Foundation.
Court of King’s Bench Justice Alice Woolley approved the deal in which the Stampede has agreed to pay 100 per cent of the damages.
Hearings on the amount will take place on Dec. 14 and 15.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2023
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