Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer is no longer the minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women for Alberta, following a recent cabinet shuffle by Premier Jason Kenney.
“I appreciate Leela's contribution to the government in the past and I very much hope so in the future, but not everybody in caucus can serve in a ministerial role at the same time,” said Kenney in a press scrum following the announcement on July 8.
“This is just about an opportunity for renewal.”
The legislative member, who was also the deputy leader of the United Conservative Party (UCP), was released from her cabinet position approximately one month after she and other UCP colleagues directed criticism at Kenney after he was photographed flouting COVID-19 health restrictions during a rooftop gathering at a government-owned property on June 2. Aheer also conducted media interviews after the news of Kenney’s photo broke, in which she said the premier should apologize.
“I am confused and, like you, extremely hurt, and I’m so sorry for any pain, anger, or frustration this may have caused you,” wrote Aheer on Facebook at the time, addressing Albertans.
“All of us make mistakes, but this one is a big one, and I am truly sorry. You’ve had to manoeuvre, pivot, and adapt to the rules put in place by our government. I can only imagine how disappointed you must be.”
The Facebook posts have since been deleted.
Duane Bratt, a political science professor in the department of economics, justice and policy studies at Mount Royal University, said the recent cabinet shuffle may be the premier’s way of rewarding his supporters and punishing dissenters, like Aheer, for challenging him.
“It's not just the criticism of the Sky Palace dinner [that led to her demotion]. It was also – I think in even stronger terms – her criticism of Premier Kenney’s defence of John A. Macdonald after the discovery of unmarked graves in Kamloops,” he said.
“If you look at the cabinet shuffle, it was about elevating allies, promoting loyalists and making a public example of Leela Aheer.”
However, Calgary-North East MLA Rajan Sawhney, who also publicly scolded Kenney for his violation of COVID-19 rules, was rewarded with a move from minister of community and social services to minister of transportation.
Bratt said the criticism of Kenney by Aheer and Sawhney differ because of the comments themselves, but also the publicity Aheer’s statements received – referring to the aforementioned Facebook post.
Aheer’s previous cabinet role has now been divvied up among three of her colleagues. Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr is the new minister of culture; Calgary-Glenmore MLA Whitney Issik is the associate minister of status of women and Calgary-North Muhammad Yaseen is the minister of immigration and multiculturalism.
New changes announced at the swearing-in ceremony on July 8 also included Drumheller-Stettler MLA Nate Horner as the new associate minister of rural economic development, Calgary-West MLA Mike Ellis as associate minister of mental health and addictions, Calgary-Foothills MLA Jason Luan as minister of community and social services and Calgary-Peigan MLA Tanya Fir as the associate minister of red tape reduction.
Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter, the former associate minister of red tape reduction, was shuffled out alongside Aheer.
According to the UCP caucus website, Aheer was first elected under the former Wildrose Party as the MLA for the Chestermere-Rocky View constituency in May 2015. She was re-elected in April 2019 as the UCP’s representative for the newly formed Chestermere-Strathmore riding.
Aheer was appointed minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women in April 2019. She is also the Francophone Secretariat – the liaison between the provincial government and the Alberta Francophonie.
In addition to that role, she was previously the opposition critic for children’s services and status of women, while the New Democratic Party was in power.
“If you look at her track record, there are no scandals,” Bratt said. “By all accounts, she was performing fine, there were no other indications that she was going to be moved.
“Premier Kenney is denying it, but the fact that he’s been asked this question repeatedly shows that it just doesn’t meet the sniff test; that somehow her commentary – which forced an apology, at least, on the Sky Palace dinner – was the cause of the decisions.”
In an emailed statement to the Rocky View Weekly, Aheer said she wanted to thank Kenney for offering her the privilege of serving the people of Alberta as a cabinet minister.
“There is no greater privilege than serving the interests of the people who elected me to govern,” she said. “I am humbled and full of gratitude and pride for the many accomplishments in our ministry and I wish the new ministers great success as they begin their work.”