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Politics Notley shuffles cabinet to focus on Alberta’s economic diversification

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announces changes to her cabinet on Thursday. Deron Bilous, left, leaves the Municipal Affairs portfolio to head up the new Department of Economic Development and Trade. Danielle Larivee, right, is new minister of Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta.

Dean Bennett/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Premier Rachel Notley has shuffled her cabinet and created a new department to focus on growing Alberta's economy.

Deron Bilous was moved Thursday from the Municipal Affairs portfolio to the new department of Economic Development and Trade.

Danielle Larivee, a backbencher from Lesser Slave Lake, takes over from Bilous as the new minister of Municipal Affairs and for Service Alberta.

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"This is a unique effort for a unique time in Alberta's economic story," Notley said after a swearing-in at Government House.

The NDP premier noted the province has not had a minister devoted specifically to economic growth and diversification for almost a decade.

"Growth used to be taken for granted, but the shock of low oil prices has lain bare how vulnerable these old attitudes have made us," she said.

"That passivity and those attitudes of entitlement end today."

Bilous said the department will usher in policies to grow the economy on a large scale as well as assist business people and entrepreneurs with their ventures.

"My ministry will provide a single storefront for all of government's economic, trade and innovation support initiatives," he said.

Notley, asked if the diversification plan is to include direct public investment in private business ventures, said things will become clearer in Finance Minister Joe Ceci's budget on Tuesday.

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"What I will say is that we agree that it is time for the government to very intentionally focus its efforts on diversification. We can't have bits and pieces happening all over the place independent of each other.

"We need to develop a plan and we need to be intentional on how we shepherd that plan."

Bilous's new portfolio pulls in Notley's international and intergovernmental relations duties, as well as the innovation side of Lori Sigurdson's Advanced Education ministry, which she keeps. She will also remain as minister of jobs, training and labour.

His department is to get advice from a new outside panel struck by Notley to advise on economic growth and diversification.

The government is currently trying to work its way out of a fiscal vise – caught between a growing population and a backlog of infrastructure at a time when prices for oil have been mired in an extended slump.

Ceci is to introduce the 2015-16 budget on Tuesday, more than six months into the fiscal year. The former Progressive Conservative government introduced a budget in the spring but was defeated in the May election before passing it.

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The forecast deficit is expected to be just under $6.5 billion.

On Wednesday, Ceci said the weak economy was forcing the government to put off by a year its promised target date to balance the budget. He said that would now happen in 2020.

Opposition Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said while the NDP is promising to help business people, it has so far worked to hamstring them by increasing corporate taxes, boosting income taxes on high-end earners and raising the minimum wage.

Liberal Leader David Swann said Larivee is a strong choice to be the new Municipal Affairs leader, but the province needs more continuity on the critical file.

"Ms. Larivee is the sixth minister of Municipal Affairs in less than two years," noted Swann.

The mini-shuffle expands Notley's cabinet to 13.

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