Citizens in rural southern Alberta have been anxiously waiting to see what retribution the ruling PC government was going to inflict on them for having the audacity to elect all those Wildrose party MLAs.
They didn’t have to wait too long. Firstly, to drive home their annoyance with the way the south voted, the premier decided to rub their noses in it by appointing one of her defeated PC MLAs as the new unelected political boss of southern Alberta.
Now it’s nothing new or shocking for governments of every stripe to make political appointments for their friends and defeated MLAs to existing jobs or even invented ones.
That’s just part of the process, but this political appointment by the ruling PC government raised eyebrows in agriculture industry circles because of the smokescreen he will be operating under.
The appointment involved former Agriculture Minister Evan Berger, who was defeated in the Livingston-MacLeod riding by the Wildrose party in the last election. He’s to become a special advisor to Alberta Agriculture Deputy Minister John Knapp.
On the surface, this seems an odd appointment where your former boss becomes your employee. What caused even more consternation was that the appointment was quickly cleared by the ethics commissioner under a special ruling.
It would seem the premier and PC party strategists have a plan that will not be stopped by perceived ethics —after all, it’s just politics.
If taken on face value, one would wonder why the highly-respected deputy minister, a 30-year government veteran who has professionally served the department in various capacities from Cardston to Fairview, would need advice from someone who was the minister for a mere six months.
From known memory, this type of appointment of a former ag minister back to his department has never occurred before. It would be hard to believe that this was the deputy minister’s idea. The present agriculture minister, Verlyn Olson of Camrose, might also be wondering about the optics of this dubious appointment, but one expects the orders came from above and will not be questioned.
What is not dubious is that the Wildrose Party sweep of all the rural southern Alberta ridings seems to have annoyed the ruling PC party who considered the south their fiefdom. It would now seem the PC party political braintrust is sending a message to voters in southern Alberta.
They are getting a political overseer (I wanted to use the word “commissar,” but that seemed too harsh) to look over the political interests of the PC government in the rural south.
It’s rumoured that the former minister will even be opening his own official office in southern Alberta.
Making a political appointment to look after a party’s political interests in a particular region is nothing new for governments. But such folks usually work directly out of a premier’s office and are not embedded in a government department pretending to give non-partisan advice to a deputy minister.
Perhaps it’s also a message to the department itself, being that any major decisions on programs or policies being considered by ag department bureaucrats that affect southern Alberta will now have to be vetted and approved by the region’s new political boss.
I expect one of those government decisions will be the fate of the $1 compulsory national cattle checkoff.
Its existence is part of an agreement between the Alberta Beef Producers and the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association. The government has the legal power to continue the mandatory aspect of the checkoff or not.
I expect both organizations would be wise to include the new political boss in their lobbying efforts. It would seem from an agriculture industry perspective, this will be the new political reality. Those that ignore this message might be doing so at their own peril.
This appointment is not the only fallout the wayward voters of southern Alberta will be feeling.
You can add in the recent closure of a government extended care facility in Carmangay and the cancellation of the police college project in Fort MacLeod.
One begins to suspect that the ruling PC government has a plan for Wildrose southern Alberta — stay tuned, I suspect there’s more retribution to come.
Will Verboven is the editor of Alberta Farmer.