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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith shuffles familiar faces into new cabinet roles

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith introduced her new cabinet Friday, shuffling familiar faces, tinkering with some titles, and keeping former leadership rivals close while welcoming back two exiled political veterans.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is expected to name her new cabinet today, coming off her United Conservative party’s election win last month. Smith holds a news conference in Calgary on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith introduced her new cabinet Friday, shuffling familiar faces, tinkering with some titles, and 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 on 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 the 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 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 Skilled Trades and Professions portfolio has been dropped altogether.

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.

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.