Stelmach loyalists among the shuffled

EDMONTON - Premier Ed Stelmach softened the face of his government's health reforms and signalled a shift to the fiscal right in a cabinet shuffle Wednesday.

With his party falling in the polls, Stelmach named Edmonton MLA Gene Zwozdesky as the new minister of health, taking over from Ron Liepert, who becomes minister of energy.

Zwozdesky, a veteran cabinet minister, is widely regarded as more affable than Liepert, and he won cautious support from government critics. But he takes over a ministry facing a $1.4-billion deficit and still struggling to find its footing after a massive structural reorganization.
Ted Morton takes the reins of Finance from Sherwood Park MLA Iris Evans, who is now the Minister of International and Intergovernmental relations.

Morton, the former minister of Sustainable Resource Development, is revered in conservative circles. He will now step into a more prominent role, fending off criticism from the Wildrose Alliance that the government spends too much.

Stelmach said the changes don't necessarily mean changes in policy, but rather a different way of talking to Albertans.

"The team that I've put together is better prepared to communicate the policies and direction of the government," Stelmach said.

In all, 10 ministers kept their old jobs, including Education Minister Dave Hancock and Justice Minister Alison Redford.

Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner also stays in the same job, but is now the deputy premier.

Despite speculation the new cabinet would be rife with newcomers, there were only three new faces: Edmonton MLA Thomas Lukaszuk, who is the Employment minister; Calgary MLA Jonathan Denis, the Housing minister and Frank Oberle, who takes over as Solicitor General.

Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths was widely rumoured to be in line for a cabinet post, but will instead join Treasury Board. He admitted he was disappointed with the shuffle.

"I think it's more regrettable that a lot of really good, fresh, young, new talented faces didn't get into cabinet," Griffiths said. "Diana (McQueen), Raj (Sherman), Fred (Horne), Kyle (Fawcett), Jeff Johnson, Cal Dallas. There are a lot of good, talented people. It's unfortunate they didn't get the call."

Three MLAs -- Janis Tarchuk, Fred Lindsay and George Groeneveld -- were relegated to the backbenches.
Critics said the moves were too timid, given the clamour for change that Stelmach said he heard after his party leadership review in the fall.

"I don't think this premier got the message from Albertans," Liberal Leader David Swann said. "From the last cabinet, the 12 most influential people are still the 12 most influential people."

Wildrose Alliance Party Leader Danielle Smith called the changes "window dressing." She put little stock in Morton's move to finance.

"He's going to end up in the same position the previous Finance minister was in, which is all the decisions being made over in Treasury Board," Smith said, adding that Morton was part of the cabinet that decided to go into a deficit spending.

But others said Morton's promotion is a sign the government is going to adopt slash and burn fiscal policies.

"To give him control of the province's finances is sending a message that there's going to be a shift to the right economically ... and I expect that will not bode well for those that want to see seniors care and health care properly funded," NDP Leader Brian Mason said.

The Alberta Federation of Labour also criticized Morton's promotion, saying it is a bad omen for the public service.
Liepert's move to Energy ends a rocky two years in the health job. Stelmach praised him for accomplishing structural changes by combining the province's health regions into a single superboard.

Liepert said he was neither happy nor sad about leaving the post.

"I believe that there is no other portfolio in Alberta that has a greater impact in the minds of Albertans than health care and that was certainly something I learned in spades," Liepert said.

"It was a very challenging time but a lot of that was brought on by the fact that we really felt that we had to change how we deliver health care."

Liepert's new job was greeted by praise from the energy industry, but others say there's trouble on the horizon.
"It's a sensitive position, an important position ... and it requires someone with diplomatic skills and Mr. Liepert is sorely lacking in that regard," Mason said. "Same bull, different china shop."

The cabinet remains at 23 members. The new ministers are expected to be sworn-in Friday.

Edmonton Journal, Thurs Jan 14 2010
Byline: Trish Audette and Archie McLean

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