By MLA Jason Nixon
After 44 years of one-party rule, it will take some time for Albertans to get to know the new provincial government. The process is now well underway, having begun following the spring election and continued into the first session of the 29th Legislature.
As Caucus Whip for the Official Opposition, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a number of the new government MLAs. They certainly seem to be an enthusiastic bunch, eager to take on their new roles. To say they lack experience may be a bit of an understatement, as illustrated by Calgary-Bow MLA Deborah Drever’s questionable use of social media and ensuing removal from government caucus. However, I believe her actions are hers and hers alone; they do not reflect on other MLAs.
Speaking more broadly, I don’t think the lack of experience among the new MLAs is necessarily a bad thing. Generational change at the legislature was long overdue, and given the previous government’s record of muzzling opposition and backbench MLAs, Albertans certainly deserve better, more forceful representation.
You see, it’s not those who lack experience who concern me the most. When it comes to this government, it’s the experiences of those in leadership positions that pose a greater threat.
For instance, the new Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, arrives in her new station with an interesting past. In 2004, she worked with controversial Greenpeace activist Mike Hudema to compile An Action A Day Keeps Global Capitalism Away, a book that advocates militant action against government and industry. The fact is a Ministers’ credibility can impact our economy. Foreign investors and financial markets are risk-adverse by nature. The Premier would be wise to remember this when making cabinet appointments moving forward.
While the actions of elected officials will remain under the microscope, I am also concerned by the new, unelected officials, many hailing from outside Alberta, who are assuming leadership positions behind the scenes.
One of the new Premier’s first decisions was to make a key patronage appointment to the senior civil service, creating a new top level job in the bureaucracy for John Heaney, a long-time NDP political operative. The appointment unnecessarily politicizes the public service, and will cost taxpayers up to $287,000 per year.
In addition, NDP Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd showed questionable judgment in hiring Graham Mitchell, a registered lobbyist dedicated to opposing Energy East and other key pipeline projects, as her chief of staff. Likewise, Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir hired a registered lob- byist as chief of staff. Tony Clark worked as research director for the Alberta Federation of Labour, and now works in the same department he used to lobby.
The list goes on and on. Nathan Rotman, who worked on Olivia Chow’s unsuccessful campaign for Toronto mayor, is now the chief of staff to Alberta’s Finance Minister. Robin Steudel, the new chief of staff for the Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation, was a deputy director of the B.C. NDP’s 2013 election campaign. And let’s not forget Brian Topp, the Premier’s Chief of Staff, who lost in the NDP’s federal leadership just three years ago.
Finally, questions have been raised regarding the government’s connection with Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). The Premier’s husband, Lou Arab, continues to works as a senior communications officer with the union. On June 19, CBC News left a message on Mr. Arab’s mobile phone requesting comment about a CUPE press release. Yet it was Premier Notley’s press secretary, Cheryl Oates, who returned the call. This certainly was not a shining moment for the independence of this new government.
With the first session under the new government now complete, I believe we are beginning to understand who is running the new NDP government, and what it will mean for our province. Say what you will about the new NDP MLAs’ lack of experience, but I would take a dozen Deborah Drevers over those now in positions of power in our province’s capital.
For more information, contact: Constituency Office 117 Centre St. Sundre, AB Canada T0M 1X0 Email: rimbey.rockymountainhouse.sundre@ assembly.ab.ca