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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith shuffles familiar faces into new cabinet roles

Members of the executive council are sworn in, in Edmonton, Friday, June 9, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Danielle Smith introduced her new cabinet Friday, shuffling familiar faces, keeping former leadership rivals close and welcoming back two exiled political veterans.

Smith also confirmed all new government members will be given extra instruction on how government works in accordance with a report from the ethics commissioner last month that concluded Smith risked undermining the rule of law by trying to make charges in a specific criminal court case “go away.”

"I’m proud to present Albertans with a cabinet of talented, diverse and experienced leaders in business, their communities and political life who will share with me the responsibility to fulfil this mandate,” Smith told reporters after the swearing-in ceremony at Government House.

Smith declined to let the new ministers take questions from the media, saying she wants to give them a chance to be briefed on their new responsibilities.

The cabinet has 25 members, down from 27 in Smith’s first cabinet last fall, with 20 men and five women.

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 last fall’s 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.

Amery had no cabinet experience until Smith appointed him Children’s Services minister late last year.

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, Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler concluded Smith sought to undermine the rule of law by pressuring Amery’s predecessor, Tyler Shandro, in January to drop a criminal case against a protester at a U.S. border blockade.

Trussler has reserved levying a penalty on Smith until the fall session, but recommends in the meantime new government members get instruction on the separation of powers underpinning Canadian democracy.

Smith said such instruction will be given and said she also has asked for advice from Amery on how to balance his dual roles of advising Smith on legal issues while also respecting the independence of the justice system.

“I’ll make (that advice) public when it’s available,” said Smith.

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.

Opposition NDP deputy leader Sarah Hoffman said many of the same ministers who failed Albertans in old portfolios will now have the opportunity to fail them in new ones.

“The exact same characters are continuing to call the shots,” said Hoffman.

“Danielle Smith has decided the best move for the minister (LaGrange) who completely neglected our K to 12 schools for four years -- leaving them 2,000 teachers short of where they should be and implementing a horrific curriculum -- is to move her to health.”

Hoffman said LaGrange’s past anti-abortion stance is also troubling given her new job, but Smith said “We will not be changing any laws regarding a woman’s right to choose.”

On having new legislature members get instruction on how government works, Hoffman said it’s welcome but added, “The premier needs training on the structure of Canadian government."

Political scientist Lori Williams said McIver was a strong choice for Municipal Affairs and other choices, such as Sawhney in Advanced Education, signal re-sets in those portfolios.

Williams, with Mount Royal University in Calgary, said she was surprised by LaGrange going to Health given her track record of controversy in the Education job.

“(LaGrange) has been a lightning rod,” said Williams.

“She has alienated a lot -- not just teachers. It's been school boards, it's been educational experts. Unless (Smith) is trying to signal that they are not going to listen to health-care workers, I don't know what the point is there.”

Smith 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.

There is still no dedicated Labour or Housing 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 the southern Alberta city.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2023.

- With files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said a cabinet portfolio for Seniors had been eliminated under Smith.

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