Prime Minister Jason Kenney moved some ministers and promoted six UCP backbench MPs as he reshuffled his cabinet on Thursday.
Rajan Sawhney, MLA for Calgary Northeast, has left Community and Social Services (SSC) to lead the Department of Transportation. Calgary-Foothills MPP Jason Luan, former Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, holds the CSS portfolio.
Calgary-Hays MPP Ric McIver, who oversaw transportation and municipal affairs for six months, will retain his post as minister of municipal affairs.
Two members of the previous cabinet were sacked in Thursday’s reshuffle: Taber-Warner MP Grant Hunter and Chestermere-Strathmore MP Leela Aheer.
Responsibility for the former Aheer Ministry of Culture, Multiculturalism and the Status of Women will be shared between three people.
Ron Orr, Member of Parliament for Lacombe-Ponoka, becomes Minister of Culture, Muhammad Yaseen, Member of Parliament for Calgary North, becomes Associate Minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism, and Whitney Issik, Member of Parliament for Calgary-Glenmore, becomes Associate Minister of Female condition .
Nate Horner, MPP for Drumheller-Stettler, is now Associate Minister of Rural Economic Development, and Mike Ellis, MPP for Calgary West and currently Chief Government Whip, becomes Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addiction,
Calgary-Peigan MPP Tanya Fir is the new Associate Minister for Red Tape Reduction. Fir was minister of economy, trade and tourism until she was sacked from the cabinet in August 2020.
Aheer’s removal from cabinet was the most controversial decision of the day.
Aheer recently berated the prime minister for holding a private meeting with other ministers on the rooftop of a government building in violation of public health physical distancing orders. The Prime Minister then apologized after Aheer told CBC News she expected it.
Kenney said the cabinet changes were part of a “renewal” process. He told a press conference after Thursday’s swearing-in ceremony that Aheer was not being punished for speaking out against the government.
“There are people behind me right now who have publicly criticized the government over its COVID response who are now new to the ministry and sit on the executive board,” Kenney said, referring to Orr and Horner.
“I always invite constructive criticism.”
Appease the enemies of the caucus
NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said Kenney failed to remove or mix up more top cabinet members like Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange , Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon and Energy Minister Sonya Savage.
She said all of these ministers made mistakes that hurt Albertans, such as losing $ 1.3 billion on the Keystone XL pipeline, triggering an exodus of doctors from rural Alberta and rolling out a proposed program to widely criticized K-6 studies.
Notley said Thursday’s cabinet shuffle was not about a need for renewal, as Kenney insisted, but about keeping his backbench happy.
“What we have seen instead is the creation of a number of subordinate ministries to appease political enemies within his caucus,” he said. “But the real decision-makers, the high-ranking ministers, stay in exactly the same place.”
Notley also criticized Kenney’s treatment of Aheer. The MP for Chestermere-Strathmore did not commit the type of blunders her former cabinet colleagues made, she said.
“The only thing she did to make the news was ask her boss to apologize for something everyone could see in front of their eyes,” Notley said.
Kenney’s personal popularity plummeted during the pandemic, as did support for his party. Numerous polls in recent months have suggested he was among the least popular prime ministers in the country. Other polls have suggested that his United Conservative Party is lagging behind the opposition NDP.
His government has called this summer a reset for the province as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and the economy continues to recover.