Southern Alberta is in a unique position politically.
In Lethbridge, we have a pair of Progressive Conservative MLAs in Lethbridge West’s Greg Weadick and Lethbridge East’s Bridget Pastoor. Surrounding them on all sides are Wildrose MLAs, to the west in Pat Stier (Livingstone-Macleod), south in Gary Bikman (Cardston-Taber-Warner), to the north in Ian Donovan (Little Bow) and to the east with Drew Barnes (Cypress-Medicine Hat) and Blake Pedersen (Medicine Hat).
Taking that into account, it is a little surprising Weadick has been removed from cabinet. The former minister of municipal affairs rose to the role after being named an associate minister. That came after he was named minister of advanced education in 2008 by then-premier Ed Stelmach.
Last year and into this year, it was Weadick who spearheaded the co-ordination of flood-restoration work in southern Alberta. And now, for his efforts, he finds himself on the outside looking in.
Only new premier Jim Prentice can say for certain the strategy involved in the decision, which overall led to many key figures of former premier Alison Redford’s cabinet without positions. To be certain, some had to go.
It was simply a numbers game, as Prentice, Alberta’s 16th premier, sought to decrease the size of cabinet and rid it of past and future problems.
The exclusion of Weadick, however, does not appear to fit into the category of deleting a cabinet minister who was a liability to the party, as plenty other high-ranking MLAs can carry that mantle confidently.
Redford-era bigwigs Doug Horner (finance) and Fred Horne (health), for instance, are now backbenchers, and two unelected cabinet ministers, former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel and former Calgary Board of Education chairman Gordon Dirks, step into key positions in health and education, respectively.
Alberta is indeed “under new management,” as Prentice has stated, but it appears a few cabinet decisions by the new team raise some legitimate questions.
As it stands, with the appointments of Mandel and Dirks, and Prentice at the helm as premier, the province is being guided at the highest levels by three unelected officials.
And with a short time before another provincial election is on the horizon, much of the critical work needed to be completed will likely be disrupted by yet another cabinet shuffle, something becoming an all-too-familiar occurrence to Albertans.
It is one way for a new leader to enact immediate change, and put the people they trust in key positions. It is also an opportunity to rid yourself of ministers who have had less-than-stellar records in terms of instilling public confidence and ensuring their ministries were operating efficiently.
In the end, however, a cabinet shuffle is an empty step, if the following actions of the leadership team fail to improve upon the situation in Edmonton. With the hard-charging Danielle Smith and her Wildrose compatriots, Prentice is hoping for smooth sailing over the next year or so, and progress on many of the initiatives designed to rid the government of the Redford scandals which plagued the capital.
Yes, certain key figures of the Redford regime now have reduced roles, while others have been shifted to new portfolios. That is a start.
However, Prentice and the party have done nothing to ensure southern Alberta is represented at some level around the cabinet table.
For a part of the province not adverse to political change – Cardston-Taber-Warner at one time employed former Wildrose leader Paul Hinman as its MLA – there are legitimate questions as to how Prentice’s cabinet decisions will shape the election results in the south in 2016.