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Alberta gets new justice, economy ministers in cabinet 'reset'


EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has announced a "limited reset" of his cabinet to accommodate a renamed portfolio for jobs, the economy and innovation.

But Kenney rebuffed calls by both doctors and the Opposition to move Health Minister Tyler Shandro, who has been in a months long bitter feud with the Alberta Medical Association over physician pay.

Doug Schweitzer, who was justice minister, will head the rebranded Jobs, Economy and Innovation department.

"This effectively takes the Economic Development, Trade and Tourism portfolio (and) renames it," Kenney said. "Additional functions will be added to the ministry over the weeks and months that come.

"This is a broadened and expanded ministry."

Tanya Fir, who headed the original portfolio, has been moved to the backbenches.

Kenney said Schweitzer will work to implement Alberta's recently launched plan to rejuvenate its faltering economy.

"Alberta is being hit especially hard with the double whammy of the global coronavirus recession, on top of that the collapse of energy prices which has clobbered our largest industry — oil and gas," Kenney said in front of Government House in Edmonton.

The Conference Board of Canada on Tuesday released a report forecasting Alberta will be the most heavily hit province economically this year with an 11 per contraction in its GDP. 

Kaycee Madu, a lawyer who was born in Nigeria, takes over from Schweitzer. Kenney said Madu is the first Black justice minister in Canada and will oversee a crackdown on crime, particularly offences against property; review the Police Act; and introduce legislation this fall that would allow citizen-initiated referendums.

Alberta NDP Finance critic Shannon Phillips said the economy was struggling before COVID-19 hit and the Kenney government has done little to jumpstart it. Putting Schweitzer in place isn't going to fix anything, she said.

"What we see here is maybe a refurbishing. The economic development ministry, perhaps putting a new salesman in charge," Phillips said.

"Let's be clear. This is not about a sales pitch. This is not about public relations. This is about the real conditions of people's lives and the real struggles that Albertans are facing right now."

Backbencher Tracy Allard, a businesswoman and member of the legislature for Grande Prairie, enters cabinet as Madu's replacement at municipal affairs. Kenney said she "personifies the entrepreneurial culture of Alberta."

He said it will be her job to help municipalities get through the COVID crisis and to stop them from raising taxes at a time when every aspect of the economy has been hard hit. He is also tasking her with developing "fiscal report cards" for municipalities to gauge how they are doing and to compare them with other municipalities across the country.

Shandro has been in an open battle with doctors after he government tore up their original fee agreement in February. Many doctors, particularly in rural areas, said they could no longer afford to both work in hospitals and keep up their practices. The medical association said earlier this year that its members had lost confidence in the minister.

But Kenney said Shandro has the premier's full support.

Kenney said the cabinet shuffle ensures that "we have the right people in the right place as we ensure a strong recovery from the COVID recession."

Phillips said it's not a surprise that Shandro wasn't moved.

"It is the goal of the premier's office and the government to create chaos within the public health-care system and so in that respect Mr. Shandro is doing exactly the job that the premier has set out for him," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2020

The Canadian Press

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