Alberta cabinet shuffle shakes off rookies Cusanelli and Khan

Premier Alison Redford (left), next to Alberta Tourism Parks and Recreation minister Christine Cusanelli



CALGARY – The province is suggesting a mini cabinet shuffle involving the demotion of a one-time Calgary cabinet minister enhances a new spirit of austerity.

But opponents of Premier Alison Redford's Tories say the changes barely rearrange the seats on a ship headed toward a fiscal iceberg and reflects dissension within the party.

Calgary Currie MLA Christine Cusanelli was shorn of her tourism portfolio, which was given to Vermillion-Lloydminster MLA Dr. Richard Starke.

And Stephen Kahn was relieved of his post as Enterprise and Advanced Education minister, which was added to the responsibilities of Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk.

In calling it shrinking of her cabinet, Redford said the move was in keeping with tackling uncomfortable fiscal realities unleashed by lower prices for oilsands bitumen.

"Mr. Lukaszuk's and Dr. Starke's leadership and experience will be invaluable in the tough decisions our government will make as we work through the effects of the bitumen bubble," said Redford.

She went on to thank Kahn and Cusinelli for "their advice and significant efforts in advancing our government's growth agenda."

Cusanelli wouldn't comment publicly on Monday but in the morning issued a tweet quoting former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, that "the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

She later deleted that tweet and sent out another expressing gratitude for having been in cabinet and congratulating Starke.

"So glad Richard Starke will have the chance...let's go YYC Currie -- we've got work to do," she wrote.

The shuffle's merely a smokescreen for a government in crisis, said Wildrose Party Deputy House Leader Shayne Saskiw, who added the changes don't signify any reduction in cabinet, only the reassignment of duties.

"The government only punts cabinet ministers when they're in trouble and they want to change the channel," said Saskiw.

"This won't do anything to solve two main areas of concern -- fiscal mismanagement and ethical scandals."

Last year, Cusanelli ended up repaying taxpayers $10,500 in improper expenses, including $4,000 she rang up in flying her daughter and mother to the Summer Olympics in the U.K.

If Cusanelli's demotion was really about repairing ethical wounds, Redford should have made the move much earlier, and ordered party members to pay back illegal donations that came to light last week, said Saskiw.

The cabinet shuffle, he said, also signals unhappiness within Tory ranks that's been rumoured for months.

"It's not often you demote somebody unless you're having internal problems," he said.

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