EDMONTON – Alberta Premier Alison Redford trimmed her cabinet Tuesday, rewarding some veterans and promoting a controversial rookie to the critical post of energy minister.
Ken Hughes, a first-time legislature member from Calgary, replaces defeated cabinet minister Ted Morton as the point man for the province’s wellspring oil and gas industry.
Veteran cabinet minister Doug Horner, the current Treasury Board president, becomes the government’s top money man by adding Finance to his portfolio.
Solicitor General Jonathan Denis is now also attorney general and justice minister.
The cabinet has 19 members, including Redford, which is two less than the pre-election group.
“We are a government that I think has been forged through a pretty tough election,” Redford told reporters after her cabinet was sworn in by Lt.-Gov. Don Ethell in a ceremony at Government House.
“And (we) have a very strong commitment to the direction that we as Progressive Conservatives have and the responsibility that we have to actively lead government.”
Hughes, 58, has been a key member of Redford’s inner circle and was a federal Conservative MP from 1988 to 1993.
His most recent job was a three-year stint as chair of Alberta Health Services, the amalgamated superboard tasked with delivering front-line care throughout the province.
In that role he became a lightning rod for critics who charged the system was falling off the rails.
Earlier this year, the Health Quality Council delivered a scathing review of the superboard’s performance.
It found that on Hughes’ watch, wait times for care shot well beyond the national average. Patients were suffering without medication for hours in emergency departments. Palliative care patients were meeting undignified ends lying on gurneys in hospital hallways.
The council said it also found evidence of a systematic intimidation of doctors who spoke out on poor patient care. Some were verbally abused, stripped of hospital privileges or run out of the system altogether.
Hughes stepped down as head of Alberta Health Services last December. He successfully ran for the provincial Progressive Conservative nomination in Calgary-West to replace the retiring Ron Liepert and then won the riding in the April 23 general election.
Opposition Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said she fears Hughes will do for energy what he did for health care.
“Mr. Hughes has a lot to answer for as the chair of the Alberta Health Services superboard, which oversaw almost the complete failure of our health care system,” said Smith.
“Having him in the most important position — the energy portfolio — which is the most important ministry for the health of our economy, has me concerned.”
Hughes acknowledged the slings and arrows but said, “The people of Calgary-West spoke and I think the answer was quite clear.”
He was one of a handful of newly elected Tory members to get a seat in cabinet.
Ric McIver, the former Calgary city councillor who lost the mayoral race to Naheed Nenshi in 2010, takes over Transportation from the defeated Ray Danyluk.
Businessman Stephen Khan is the new minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education. Former Advanced Education minister Greg Weadick was punted down the ladder to become associate minister to Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths.
Former Calgary school principal Christine Cusanelli takes over for the defeated Jack Hayden as Tourism minister.
Cusanelli was not at the swearing in. Redford said her new minister was on vacation with her family and had been caught in an understandable dilemma: to go on a planned trip this week or call the premier’s office and presumptuously inquire whether she should hang around for a possible cabinet post.
“She was quite surprised to hear she was in cabinet and that’s one of the reasons she’s going to make a good cabinet minister,” said Redford. “She’s very humble.”
Redford made some organizational changes, including merging Justice with the solictor general’s department and adding Sustainable Resources to the Environment portfolio.
The Seniors department will now be part of Health, and Aboriginal Relations will get its own ministry under former whip Robin Campbell.
The role of deputy premier has also changed. Former Education minister Thomas Lukaszuk will assume the job and, in a break from tradition, will not have a separate department to manage.
Lukaszuk said his role will likely increase as the premier works on larger files such as the integrated national energy strategy.
“She is putting together a very aggressive policy agenda (and) a very aggressive legislative agenda,” said Lukaszuk.
“It is a task that will need to be carried out by more than one person.”
Opposition NDP Leader Brian Mason called it a trophy post.
“Appointing Thomas Lukaszuk as the deputy premier without a department to supervise effectively creates a hood ornament for the government,” said Mason. “It’s decorative, but it has no practical function. And it costs more.”
The cabinet leaves the south under-represented. The Wildrose party swept the region south of Calgary in the election, leaving three Tories: Weadick and Bridget Pastoor in Lethbridge and Ron Casey in Banff-Cochrane.
None made it to cabinet, but Redford stressed the south will not be left behind.
“We are a government of all Alberta,” she said.
Former attorney general Verlyn Olson takes over from the defeated Evan Berger in Agriculture.
Two-term Grande Prairie member Wayne Drysdale is moving from the backbench to the Infrastructure post.
A number of ministers are keeping the jobs assigned to them last fall when Redford won the Tory leadership.
Dave Hancock remains as government house leader and the head of the sprawling Human Services Department.
The other retained ministers are: Manmeet Bhullar (Service Alberta), Cal Dallas (Intergovernmental, International Affairs), Heather Klimchuk (Culture), Diana McQueen (Environment), and Fred Horne (Health).
The premier plans to recall the legislature in two weeks to pick a Speaker to replace Ken Kowalski, who retired.