Dianna McQueen is the face of both the changes in Alison Redford’s Alberta government and the challenge they pose – an eager new cabinet minister who must get quickly up to speed on her file.
Ms. McQueen is among seven first-time ministers in the cabinet announced Wednesday by Ms. Redford, who was sworn in as Premier last week.
Veteran cabinet ministers, however, still hold key portfolios, including Ted Morton, a two-time party leadership hopeful who will now serve as Energy Minister, and Ron Liepert, a polarizing party stalwart who is now Finance Minister, his fourth portfolio.
It’s the fresh faces, however, who could define Ms. Redford’s tenure. Among them is Ms. McQueen, a first-term MLA and former mayor of Drayton Valley, Alta., who takes over as Minister of Environment and Water, which was rebranded at a time when questions about water quality have underpinned much of the environmental criticism of Alberta’s oil sands. Her predecessor is now a backbencher.
Ms. McQueen says she’ll focus on the Athabasca River, which runs through the oil sands, and rivers where water demand outstrips supply. “Moving forward, those will be a priority,” she told The Globe and Mail.
Over the past year, a series of reports, which she has yet to review, found inadequate or non-existent water monitoring in the oil sands and led the province to begin overhauling its regime. Ms. McQueen demurred on several questions Wednesday, saying she’s not yet prepared to jump into the fray.
“In her defence, she has a long reading list ahead of her,” said Joe Obad of Alberta’s Water Matters advocacy group, who praised Ms. McQueen and urged her to move swiftly on water issues while “not being a figurehead the province can show off without substance to back it up.”
Cabinet members, who each earn $63,000 more than a backbench MLA, were drawn roughly equally from Calgary, Edmonton and rural communities. (It’s “rurban,” Deputy Premier Doug Horner said.) Eleven veteran members of the previous cabinet are now backbenchers, and the total number of ministries was cut by three.
In some cases, experience trumped the need for fresh blood. Health consultant and first-term MLA Fred Horne will take over an embattled Health Ministry in which he has played various major roles for years. Ms. Redford praised his knowledge of the file, while opposition parties worried aloud that he’ll lead a privatization effort. They also cited the appointments of Mr. Horne, Mr. Morton and Mr. Liepert in saying Ms. Redford’s overhaul fell short.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” NDP Leader Brian Mason said.
Ms. Redford, however, said veteran MLAs such as her long-time friend Mr. Liepert aren’t necessarily opposed to change. “I wasn’t looking for people who think exactly the same way I do,” she said, later adding: “More importantly, I think the proof will be in the results. And I am very confident in what we’re about to do.”
Six hours after swearing in her cabinet, Ms. Redford allocated $107-million to boost education funding, a key part of her campaign platform.
Meanwhile, her chief of staff, Stephen Carter, had faced conflict-of-interest questions after an insolvent company he once co-owned defaulted on about $600,000 in court-ordered judgments, mostly owed to the University of Calgary. Mr. Carter met with Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson, who declined in an interview to address Mr. Carter’s case specifically but said debts of defunct companies do not amount to a conflict.
An election is expected in eight months.
With a report from Dawn Walton