Premier Jason Kenney moved some ministers and promoted six backbench UCP MLAs as he shuffled his cabinet on Thursday.
Rajan Sawhney, MLA for Calgary-North East, was moved from community and social services (CSS) to lead the transportation ministry. Calgary-Foothills MLA Jason Luan, formerly the associate minister of mental health and addictions, is taking on the CSS portfolio.
Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver, who had been overseeing transportation and municipal affairs for the last six months, will stay on as minister of municipal affairs.
Two members of the previous cabinet were dropped in Thursday's shuffle: Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter and Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer.
Responsibility for Aheer's former ministry of culture, multiculturalism and status of women will be split among three people.
Ron Orr, MLA for Lacombe-Ponoka, becomes the minister of culture, Muhammad Yaseen, MLA for Calgary-North, becomes associate minister of immigration and multiculturalism, and Whitney Issik, MLA for Calgary-Glenmore, becomes associate minister for the status of women.
Nate Horner, MLA for Drumheller-Stettler, is now associate minister of rural economic development, and Mike Ellis, MLA for Calgary-West and currently the chief government whip, becomes associate minister of mental health and addictions,
Tanya Fir, MLA for Calgary-Peigan, is the new associate minister of red tape reduction. Fir was the minister of economic, trade and tourism until she was dropped from cabinet in August 2020.
Aheer's removal from cabinet was the most controversial move of the day.
Aheer recently chastised the premier for holding a private gathering with other cabinet ministers on the rooftop patio of a government building in contravention of physical distancing public health orders. The premier subsequently apologized after Aheer told CBC News she expected him to.
Kenney said changes to cabinet were part of a "renewal" process. He said in a news conference following Thursday's swearing-in ceremony that Aheer was not being punished for speaking out against the government.
"There are people standing behind me right now who have been critical of the government publicly over its COVID response who are now newly in the ministry and serving in executive council," Kenney said referring to Orr and Horner.
"I always invite constructive criticism."
Placating caucus foes
NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said Kenney failed to remove or shuffle more high-profile cabinet members like Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon and Energy Minister Sonya Savage.
She said all these ministers have made mistakes that have hurt Albertans like losing $1.3 billion on the Keystone XL pipeline, triggering an exodus of doctors from rural Alberta, and rolling out a widely-criticized K-6 draft curriculum. \
Notley said Thursday's cabinet shuffle wasn't about a need for renewal, as Kenney insisted, but about keeping his backbench happy.
"What we saw instead was the creation of a number of junior ministries to placate political foes within his caucus," she said. "But the real decision-makers, the senior ministers, stay exactly in the same place."
Notley also criticized Kenney's treatment of Aheer. The Chestermere-Strathmore MLA did not make the type of blunders made by her former cabinet colleagues, she said.
"The only thing she did to make news was to ask her boss to apologize for something that everybody could see right in front of their face," Notley said.
Kenney's personal popularity plummeted during the pandemic, as did support for his party. Multiple polls over the past few months have suggested he is among the least-liked premiers in the country. Other surveys have suggested his United Conservative Party is trailing the Opposition NDP.
His government has branded this summer as a reset for the province as COVID-19 restrictions lift and the economy continues to recover.