One of Stephen Harper's Conservative MPs has resigned his seat in the House of Commons to take over as Alberta's envoy in Washington, a key role in a new international team announced by Premier Jim Prentice.
The appointment of Rob Merrifield, first reported by The Globe Wednesday, was confirmed by Mr. Prentice at a news conference. Mr. Prentice also announced a new senior envoy to Asia, former Canadian diplomat Ron Hoffman, and the appointment of former MP Jay Hill as the province's representative to B.C., Saskatchewan and the North.
The moves amount to Mr. Prentice cleaning house when it comes to Alberta's key envoy roles – replacing or pushing aside envoys appointed by his predecessor, Alison Redford. Mr. Prentice also gave himself the International and Intergovernmental Relations portfolio when he announced his cabinet earlier this week, and appears set to shutter Alberta's office in Ottawa.
"Our government is highly and immediately focused on ensuring we have the right priorities in the right geographies," Mr. Prentice said, saying the appointees represent "experienced talent ready to push the boundaries for the government of Alberta on the most urgent intergovernmental and international priorities."
Mr. Merrifield has already resigned his seat in the House, Mr. Prentice said, and will donate his pension as a Member of Parliament to charity while serving as Alberta's envoy – as will Mr. Prentice and Mr. Hill while serving in their roles.
The move will make Mr. Merrifield Alberta's point-man in pressing for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project he is familiar with from his position as chair of Parliament's standing committee on international trade. He also served as the congressional liaison for Canada's federal government.
"It's really a continuation of what I've been doing for the Prime Minister," Mr. Merrifield said in an interview. "… And I believe I'll have the opportunity under the leadership of Jim Prentice to do things in this position that have never been tried before and I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Mr. Merrifield represented the western Alberta riding of Yellowhead and was first elected as an MP in 2000 under the Canadian Alliance banner. He has previously served in cabinet as a Minister of State for Transport, and had already been nominated to run again for the Conservatives in 2015. He did not take questions at Wednesday's announcement.
On Twitter earlier this month, Mr. Merrifield congratulated Mr. Prentice on his election as leader of Alberta's Progressive Conservative party, saying "Alberta has the leadership it needs to move forward." Mr. Merrifield also endorsed Mr. Prentice in the party's recent leadership race.
He brushed aside questions of whether he's affiliated with the provincial PC or Wildrose parties, saying: "I'm more concerned about the province and its leadership and where we go from here. And I believe Jim Prentice can lead the province, turn it around and regain that trust."
Many MPs congratulated him on his move, including Mr. Harper, who said in a statement that Mr. Merrifield "has not only earned my highest respect, but the respect of his Parliamentary colleagues as well."
The role of Washington envoy is currently held by David Manning, who was appointed in early 2013 by Ms. Redford. Mr. Manning is a former president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a leading energy industry group. Mr. Prentice said Mr. Manning will leave that role, but that he has yet to negotiate a severance package.
Former cabinet minister and one-time PC leadership contender Gary Mar remains Alberta's envoy to Asia. His contract expires next year and won't be renewed, Mr. Prentice said. Mr. Hoffman will work towards an "orderly handover" leading up to Mr. Mar's departure, Mr. Prentice said.
Mr. Hoffman will review the province's existing office in Asia, he said. He's a former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan and Thailand. "Bringing him to Alberta I think is a definite coup for our province," Mr. Prentice said.
Mr. Hill, a former B.C. MP, was a key figure of Mr. Prentice's campaign team but Mr. Prentice brushed aside questions of patronage, saying Mr. Hill is keenly aware of the region's issues.
All the jobs will include no severance pay and will pay $243,000 per year. That, along with forgoing their MP pensions, "speaks to the quality of people who are here today, and the commitment they represent to doing the right thing," Mr. Prentice said.
Mr. Prentice also said Alberta's office in Ottawa, which was set up by Ms. Redford two years ago, is essentially being mothballed. Alberta's representative has already resigned and the need for an office in the capital will be reviewed, Mr. Prentice said.