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Will Redford's cabinet help or hinder her relationship with Ottawa?

Alberta Premier Alison Redford introduces her cabinet in Edmonton on Oct.12, 2011.


Alberta Premier Alison Redford's team is in place and includes a host of both new blood and familiar ministers who come with baggage. One challenge she faces is now clear: maintaining a relationship with Ottawa.

With Ms. Redford at the helm, Alberta's Progressive Conservatives are far from being ideologically in sync with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's party, which is dominated by holdovers of the former Reform movement. Ms. Redford is a Red Tory who differs (particularly on social issues) from many in the federal Conservative caucus.

It was Ms. Redford who tried to wrest a nomination from the hands of polarizing MP Rob Anders (with the help of Ron Liepert, who she just named as Finance Minister), who named the son of a prominent former PC MP and adversary of Mr. Harper to head her transition team and who spoke out against the Conservatives' child care proposal during the 2006 federal election.

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However, she's also been trying to build bridges. She named Mr. Harper's long-time colleague, Ted Morton, as Energy Minister last week and sent another leadership rival, Gary Mar, to be Alberta's advocate in Asia. Meanwhile, she has talked repeatedly about the province playing a stronger role within Confederation.

As she makes these moves, keeping rivals close in her government, Mr. Harper's Conservatives publicly play down a notion of any rift.

"[Ms. Redford]thinks big picture and how it all works. We've had a tendency at times in my – your – province to be a bit parochial. I don't see that. Certainly she'll defend Alberta and Alberta's rights very capably. But I think she sees Alberta as being a great part of Canada," said Calgary Centre MP Lee Richardson, who expects Ms. Redford to improve the relationship with Ottawa.

"I certainly get a sense of that. And certainly the closeness to our members in Alberta to the ministers here and also with the relationship to the prime minister are going to be very good."

The Ottawa relationship is just one facet of Alberta's overhaul, which brings in a series of new people representing the province.

First-time cabinet minister Diana McQueen becomes Environment Minister and, because it's currently Alberta's term, is also the new president of the Canadian Council of the Ministers of Environment. The previous minister is out of cabinet.

Alberta's most recent international and intergovernmental relations minister – after the Premier, the face of the province in diplomatic circles – is also out of cabinet. Iris Evans has been replaced by Cal Dallas, a first-term MLA who will be a new face across much of the country.

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In Mr. Liepert, other finance ministers can expect a "one-man wrecking ball" (in the words of the Liberals) or a "rock 'em, sock 'em" minister (according to the NDP). He's a fierce partisan, one who says the relationship between his PCs and Mr. Harper's Conservatives has been strained by federal caucus members backing the Wildrose Alliance, a chief challenger to the Alberta Tories.

"There are members of the federal caucus, my MP [Mr. Anders]being one of them, who actively work on behalf of the Wildrose party. So I treat those people no differently than I treat the opposition in Alberta. However, those guys are few and far between in the federal government. And I don't believe, frankly, they have any interest on federal government policy," Mr. Liepert said in an interview, adding that he sees no major barriers between his party and Ottawa.

"I don't anticipate we'll have issues we can't get resolved," he Liepert said.

Wildrose, however, sees the relationship as damaged. Some MPs do support Wildrose instead of Ms. Redford's party.

"Alison is a Joe Clark Tory. In federal Conservative circles, that's a Clarkie. She's a Clarkie, and I know that that doesn't go over well in that [Conservative Party of Canada]group," said Rob Anderson, Wildrose's House Leader. "And I don't think Ted Morton being appointed to cabinet will make a lick of difference."

With a report from Dawn Walton in Calgary

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