Alberta Premier Jim Prentice has wasted little time signalling that he is prepared to make bold moves in the name of renewal – appointing people who are not MLAs to head up two of the most important ministries in government and jettisoning high-profile Tory politicians from the inner circle of power.
Mr. Prentice was sworn in as Alberta's 16th premier on Monday afternoon, introducing a pared-down, 20-person cabinet that included several new faces – moves designed to distance his government quickly from the bloated, scandal-plagued tenure of former premier Alison Redford. But the biggest splash was created by the announcement that former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel will take over as Minister of Health and former Calgary school board chair Gordon Dirks will be Education Minister. Neither holds a seat in the legislature.
"As of this moment, Alberta is under new management," Mr. Prentice said after his swearing-in ceremony. "This is a new Progressive Conservative government with new leadership, with new voices and with a new way of doing things."
Mr. Prentice takes over at a time when the public's trust in the province's 43-year-old political dynasty is at one of its lowest points ever thanks to two years of controversy under Ms. Redford. Most of the troubles surrounded the disgraced former premier's opulent tastes and a string of broken promises by her government. Ms. Redford also oversaw a rapid rise in the accumulated provincial debt, a development Albertans generally disdain.
But the new Premier also assumes power at a time when the province's economic future is at least uncertain, with ever-present concerns about pipeline development meshing with legitimate worries about a diminishing appetite in Asia for Alberta crude. Mr. Prentice took on the ministries of Aboriginal Relations and International and Intergovernmental Relations, moves intended to demonstrate that "market access for our oil and gas will receive the highest priority by our government."
Mr. Prentice said he, along with his new Health and Education Ministers, will run in as-yet-to-be-determined by-elections before a new session of the legislature is opened later this fall. It is almost certain Mr. Mandel will seek election in the Edmonton riding recently vacated by interim premier and long-time Progressive Conservative MLA Dave Hancock. Mr. Prentice will likely run in Calgary – a city he represented in the House of Commons for six years – but not in the now-toxic riding vacated by Ms. Redford. He did not say what would happen should he or the other two unelected members of his cabinet be defeated.
Omissions from cabinet included former finance minister Doug Horner and Thomas Lukaszuk, a fellow leadership candidate and former minister of jobs, skills training and labour. Both were among the most prominent faces in the Tory government.
The new Premier announced several ways his government plans to earn back the trust of Albertans.
The first was by announcing a smaller, more efficient cabinet – down from the 30 ministers named to the executive council under Ms. Redford. Secondly, he said he would introduce tough new rules to end entitlement, a word that became associated with Ms. Redford's administration. "As your Premier, I will always be guided by the belief that it is called public service for a reason, and if you're a part of my government, you will be held to the standard of serving and being a servant of the people of Alberta," he said.
He said his government will introduce an accountability act that will put an end to sweetheart contracts for political staff, to allowing lobbyists to be hired as consultants by the very same government they are trying to influence, and to sole-source contracts for outside consultants. It will also cap severance for public servants.
"And when it comes to public appointments, only qualifications will matter and connections will not," the Premier said.
Mr. Prentice announced he will change the head of the Alberta civil service and take a "new approach" to how the province operates within Canada, with the United States and around the world.
"We have work to do when it comes to making the most of our resources and improving our competitiveness even as we protect the rights of private property owners here in Alberta, something else that will be enshrined in legislation come the fall," the new Premier said.
He said the province needs to foster better relations with the United States, and in particular in "defining Alberta as an environmental leader … and at the fore in the fight against climate change."
Mr. Prentice said that during his travels around the province during the leadership campaign, Albertans told him they wanted "a whole lot less politics and a whole lot more leadership, and that's exactly what my intentions are. They want less talk and more action. … To the people of Alberta I can say: I heard loud and clear."