How to build a cabinet using mismatched pieces: pointers for Rachel Notley

Now that the euphoria of the election has worn off, I wonder if Rachel Notley is waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, wondering, “What the hell do I do now?”

If she isn’t, she should. She has a big, big job ahead of her, and the first thing she has to do is put a cabinet together. Compared to that job, winning the election was a snap. Forming a cabinet from mismatched pieces is like trying to, well, put together a real cabinet with mismatched pieces.

How do you build a cabinet with a government that is made up almost entirely of people who are not only inexperienced in government, but inexperienced in running anything more complicated than a paper route? Hell, a lot of them are inexperienced at life, period.

Luckily for Notley, there are a couple of natural fits for two vital positions. Dr. Bob Turner from Edmonton-Whitemud is the natural — perhaps only — choice for health minister. I mean, c’mon, the guy is a doctor; that’s got to count for something. And Sarah Hoffman, the former Edmonton school trustee, would be a nice fit for education. (If you follow this logic, however, you might be inclined to appoint a college student as advanced education minister, but this would be a mistake.)

After that, well, it gets a little more complicated.

First, what to do about the veterans?

David Eggen will have to be given a cabinet post, and Deron Bilous will have to get a seat at the table, too. But what to do with Brian Mason? Clearly, the long-time MLA an party leader has to be rewarded, but he would be another Edmontonian in a cabinet that is shaping up to be too Edmonton-centric, if you take into account the four existing NDP MLAs all get seats, and if Turner and Hoffman get seats as well. The natural choice for Mason is to be the Speaker of the House. He’s one of the few who knows the rules, he would love to have all the attention, and my guess is he would love even more to get some revenge.

After that, cabinet is a bit of a crapshoot. Clearly, Calgary needs a lot of seats, but outside of Joe Ceci, a former alderman and the most well-known of the new Calgary MLAs, who do you turn to? Anybody over age 30 and with any experience outside of being a flight attendant or a yoga instructor can probably punch their ticket into cabinet. The energy minister pretty much has to come from Calgary, but who qualifies? I’m not saying they need to find an oil executive, but it might help to have someone who knows a little more about the oil industry than just how to use the self-serve at the gas station.

Outside of the big cities, the NDP will need rural ministers to ensure representation from the different parts of the province. The MLA for either Peace River or Lesser Slave Lake (representing northern Alberta) could get a seat. (Have you seen those ridings? Either one is bigger than Prince Edward Island.) Both Red Deer and Lethbridge went NDP, so at least one or two of the new MLAs from those cities will be rewarded.

Now, if I may quote Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons, “Won’t someone please think of the children?”

Notley cannot just toss all of the children’s army to the back of the bus. Somewhere in that group of losing student union candidates there has to be a gem. I expect we’ll see a lot of ‘associate ministers’ — basically a minister on training wheels — appointed to get some young ‘uns involved. Associated ministers can also step in after the inevitable crash-and-burn of a minister(s). The NDP has also promised to create a women’s ministry, a nice 1980s idea that is paternalistic and kind of ridiculous today, that would be a nice starting point for one of the younger, female members.

Luckily for Notley, long-time veterans who believe they deserve their reward will not trouble her. And she won’t be forced to find positions for people who supported her. I suspect she’ll have a fairly small cabinet to start with, not because of ideology, but because she just doesn’t have enough cabinet material.

Perhaps the biggest break for the Notley government? They won’t have to face questions from Rachel Notley.


Katz donation assures one thing — no money for arena.

You’d think at some point I’d get tired of writing about Daryl Katz, but no. The guy just keeps doing the most amazing, mind-boggling things. I swear, Katz is an Edmonton version of Mitt Romney.

When last we left the klutz that is Katz, out local Monty Burns had managed to take a sure bet, multi-million dollar deal for a new arena and foul it up, possibly beyond repair. All the guy had to do was appear before city council (his partners in this deal, after all) and clear up some misunderstandings. But Katz told council he was too busy being a total jerk to appear before council, and council returned his kindness by telling him to get lost.  Katz is apparently quite reclusive, but even Howard Hughes made a few public appearances when he needed to be seen.

Now, the amazing, disappearing Katz has become a provincial figure. Word came out last week (courtesy, it appears, from the Katz people themselves) that Katz, his family, his companies and his chief lieutenants had made a donation to the provincial PC party during last year’s election of something like $300,000 to $400,000.  In U.S politics, that’s called ‘a nice start’, but here, it’s big money. That kind of money would have paid for the entire Liberal campaign — hell, it would have paid for three provincial Liberal campaigns.

Whether the money made any difference to the outcome of the election is impossible to tell, but I’m sure the PCs put it to good use. As you may recall, it wasn’t a brilliant advertising campaign that turned the floundering PC campaign around, but a series of dumbass statements from Wildrose candidates, combined with a wave of panic voting from Liberal and undecided voters.  But still, for the Tories, the money must have seemed like manna from heaven.

As expected, the opposition is in full howl. Katz and the city of Edmonton were banking on $100 million or so from some level of government (hello, province!) for the arena, so of course the ‘optics’ of a $300,000 donation to a party you were counting on for a $100 million contribution are not good. You can always count on the bombastic Brian Mason to come up with the perfect sound bite for TV; in the legislature, Mason put on his best sorrowful face to say that it looks like our local billionaire has bought himself a political party. This is rich coming from the leader of a party that has been bought and paid for by the province’s labor unions, but no matter.

According to other reports, unnamed friends of Katz say that Daryl was just so panicked by the prospect of a Wildrose government that he decided to donate all that he could to prevent this calamity. He was just being a good citizen, after all.

As always, Katz’s actions continue to baffle. Surely, if he did donate the money in the hopes of some future quid pro quo, even a guy with his shocking lack of public relations smarts would know that the donation would come to light. Even more incredibly, the donation pretty much insures that the province will never give the arena any direct money. The ‘optics’ of that kind of arrangement — billionaire donates thousands to political party that in turn gives millions to his pet project — would quite simply destroy the PCs.

Could there be money coming from provincial funds for the arena? Maybe. But it will only be money that is given to the city of Edmonton to use as it sees fit. In the legislature on Monday, Doug Horner said repeatedly that there were no promises made in return for the money. Of course there weren’t. The PCs aren’t stupid, nor are they flagrantly corrupt. They should not have taken so much money from one source, but there is zero chance that Katz or the city of Edmonton will get $100 million for an arena thanks to that donation.


The Redford Equation.

On Saturday night (or more accurately, Sunday morning), after it became apparent that Alison Redford was going to be our new premier, I went on Facebook to see if any of my ‘friends’ were registering any opinions. There was only one (most of my friends are in bed at that hour, and if not, they sure as hell aren’t looking at Facebook at 1:30 a.m.), and what she said brought home the enormity of the Redford victory.

My friend is a liberal and (or at least, was) a Liberal. I always felt she wouldn’t have voted Tory even if promised a lifetime supply of licorice. But on her Facebook update, she wrote: “Alison! Alison! This is amazing!”

And I thought: “Uh, oh.”

Redford’s stunning victory Sunday puts all the pieces in play. For years, Alberta politics was as predictable as the sunrise and complaints from farmers. Now, all bets are off (although I would take odds on the Tories extending their winning streak for another four years).

What the Tory party has done, at least in my view, is nothing less than paddle against the prevailing political currents. While Stephen Harper goes further and further right, and American politics threatens to fall off the face of the earth, the reigning conservative party in the most conservative province in Canada has taken a leftward turn. Not a hard left, by any means. Alison Redford isn’t going to put out the welcome mat for creeps and bums to return to Alberta. But Redford is the reddest of Red Tories, a former human rights lawyer in a province where human rights have been up for sale for years. Achieving power while being beholden to no one, she is free to shape her cabinet with new faces, without a concern to repaying debts owed to the lame, the halt, and the rural Conservative MLA. (Doug Griffiths, however, might want to take up permanent residence on the backbenches, having backed the wrong horse on the second ballot.)

Redford’s victory has so many potential ramifications, it’s perhaps easiest to just put them in point form, which is an easy dodge for lazy writers:

• Where will angry Gary Mar supporters go?  Will they turn their backs on the party because their guy got stiffed, or was his support more bandwagon jumping than true blue? (Once again, the Tories have allowed a loser to become a winner.  Redford came in second on the first ballot, second on the second ballot. And yet she emerges the winner.)

  • Will Redford push the Tories solidly on the centre-left (by Alberta standards, anyway) setting up a truer leftish vs. right showdown with the Wildrose?
  • I think Wildrose supporters might be dancing in the streets today; the right wing of Alberta politics is now wide open, with only one standard bearer for the right.
  • What will rural Albertans think? Well, the party they have voted for blindly for so many years first conspired to get rid of one of their own (Ed Stelmach), and replaced then with a lefty woman. Now that rural Alberta has been so thoroughly shunned by the Tory party, there may no longer be any valid reason to stick with the PCs. Unless, of course, the Tories appear set to win the next election, in which case the rural vote follow the power.
  • Media darling Brian Mason is now the oldest face in the race. The PCs and Wildrose have dynamic, accomplished young women in charge. The Liberals have a controversial, headline attracting youngish immigrant running the show. That leaves Mason — an old, male, career politician — looking very much like a Chevy Vega in a showroom full of 2012 model sports cars.

So much to think of. So many ramifications. The only thing I know for sure is that the political ground shook, and shook hard, on Sunday. All that’s left to see now is who’s left standing.

On Edmonton names, Harry’s revenge, and the ND loving Sun.

New constituency of Edmonton South West
What Edmonton South West looks like.

Legislature session, day 2:

I am disappointed by Edmonton’s MLAs. Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats… all of them. Here’s why.

The bulk of Tuesday’s session (the stuff that happens after the media stops watching Question Period) was taken up with a discussion of the new electoral boundaries commission final report, which was ordered to add new seats to the Leg, including one to Edmonton. You may remember the initial boundaries report, after months of study and deliberation, changed the landscape of Edmonton, with new boundaries and new constituencies (Callingwood, La Perle, North West). But the politicians didn’t like it much, so the commission said; “Screw it, we’ll just carve off a corner of Edmonton and give it one new riding.” Which is basically what they did, creating a dog’s leg, dog’s breakfast constituency called Edmonton South West, that seems to be made up mostly of empty space with pockets of population from as far south as the Calgary Trail north to the Whitemud.

The deed has been done, and no one seems to care about this newborn orphan. But what disappoints me is that no Edmonton MLAs tried to give this unloved newcomer a better name.

Most of Tuesday was taken up by amendments, as MLAs asked for, and received, renames for some constituencies. Strathcona became Strathcona-Sherwood Park. Calgary Montrose became Calgary Greenway. And Calgary Nose Hill became … I am not making this up … Calgary Klein. (This resulted in an interesting exchange, when ND MLA Rachel Notley questioned whether Klein was “part of history” and should be honored. An unidentified member asked: “Do you want him to die first? Is that it?”, to which Notley replied: “I wouldn’t go there.”)

Since Edmonton South West has no sitting member, and no one to speak up for it, it will be born with the dreary name Edmonton South West. Couldn’t one Edmonton MLA have stood up and asked for a better name for this baby?

How about Edmonton-McLuhan, after media guru Marshall McLuhan, who was born in Edmonton? Or maybe Edmonton-May, after aviation great ‘Wop’ May, or Edmonton-Dickens, after another aviation great, Punch Dickens. Maybe Edmonton-Page, after J. Percy Page, Edmonton Grads coach and former Lt. Gov. If you insist on a political name, try Edmonton-Murphy, after Emily Murphy, the first female magistrate of the British Empire.Or how about Lois Hole, although I don’t know if anyone would want to be the MLA for Edmonton-Hole. Just to get the legislature talking, maybe Edmonton-Chong, after Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame. Or Edmonton-Fox, after Michael J. Fox. Or Canadian nationalist and publisher Edmonton-(Mel) Hurtig. The Tories would love that one.

The bottom line is that there are dozens of worthy Edmontonians we could have named our new constituency after. But instead, because no one took the reins, we’re stuck with Edmonton South West. Missed opportunity for everyone

Elsewhere Tuesday, Calgary Varsity Liberal MLA Harry Chase must have enjoyed his day of revenge.

Chase spoke at length during first reading of the law on distracted driving, which bans the use of cellphones while driving. As Chase pointed out, he made an almost identical private member’s bill in 2005, which was shot down by the Tories. On Tuesday, Chase threw the words of Tories who disagreed with him back in their faces, gleefully quoting one Tory after another who disagreed with his bill, all of whom will no doubt agree with the government bill. That must have been a good day for Chase.

And finally, it’s time to call out the Edmonton Sun for what it is — a New Democrat supporting paper.

Seriously. In the story on the latest case of duckicide in Fort Mac, ND MLA Rachael Notley was quoted first and extensively, and her quote was used in a drop-quote in the story. Two pages later, in a story on the Auditor-General’s report on health-care accounting, ND leader Brian Mason was the only politician quoted, complete with mugshot.  That’s a lot of ink for the no. 4 party in the legislature. Could the Edmonton Sun be harbouring a soft spot for socialists … or are the other parties just doing a crappy job of getting their message out?