Premier Jason Kenney’s government has appointed a number of oil executives to chair Alberta’s largest universities as part of a larger shakeup of management at dozens of provincial boards and agencies.
The appointment of 60 people to the boards of nearly 20 institutions was announced Friday morning in a sweeping change that brought numerous conservative allies of Mr. Kenney’s three-month-old United Conservative government to arms-length public agencies across Alberta.
The changes come during Mr. Kenney’s promised “Summer of Repeal,” where the Premier has said he will focus on rolling back many of the initiatives and appointments made by the former NDP government. Business taxes have already been cut and the minimum wage for students lowered as part of Mr. Kenney’s policy agenda.
Now in opposition, the New Democrats have decried the speed of the appointments and the lack of advertising for the positions, as well as the absence of any public vetting before the announcement on Friday. Mr. Kenney’s office said all of the appointments were confirmed at a cabinet meeting on Thursday.
“We are thrilled to have so many Albertans of such a high calibre joining a variety of provincial agencies, boards and commissions,” said Mr. Kenney’s spokeswoman, Christine Myatt, in a statement. “The previous government made appointments based on its priorities and mandate, and it is reasonable for us to do the same.”
The government cleaned house at the province’s largest postsecondary institutions, replacing the top bosses at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary, along with the board chairs of seven other colleges and universities. A number of those board chairs had been appointed by the NDP and were midway through their terms.
Alex Pourbaix, president of Cenovus Energy, was named board chair of Calgary’s Mount Royal University. The head of Berkshire Hathaway Energy Canada, Scott Thon, is the new chair of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.
Oil-patch financier Adam Waterous, the new chair of the Banff Centre, has been pursuing plans to build an aerial gondola and large parking lot outside the mountain town that has divided locals.
A failed candidate for Mr. Kenney’s party in Edmonton, Len Rhodes, was put in charge of the board of Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis. That position has one of the highest salaries of the positions announced Friday, with Mr. Rhodes’s predecessor earning more than $115,000 last year.
The head of the Alberta Lawyers Insurance Association, David Weyant, was put in charge of the Alberta Health Service, the massive agency responsible for health delivery in the province.
New Democrat MLA David Eggen said the government’s decision to fire chairs and board members to appoint their own people is a mistake and a form of bad management. He said the NDP waited for positions to open before filling them during the party’s four years in power, even when those jobs were held by friends of the last conservative government.
“This is a shameful return to the bad old days of cronyism and political favours given out in exchange for service and or money,” Mr. Eggen told reporters at the legislature in Edmonton.
Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University, said the wave of appointments will help the government push through an austerity budget expected in October. The 13 boards that saw new chairs appointed on Friday collectively have annual budgets in the billions and will need to make cuts to fulfil Mr. Kenney’s promise to balance the books by the end of his first term.
“This is putting people in place for the budget decisions to come,” he said. “We’re expecting big budget cuts for postsecondary, not one or two per cent, but in the double digits. Bringing in a board that is aligned with cuts makes sense for the government."
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