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UCP shakes up boards in slew of Friday changes

Last Updated Aug 16, 2019 at 4:55 pm MDT

Tom Ross/660NEWS

EDMONTON (660 NEWS) — The Alberta government issued a series of shakeups on Friday.

Changes are coming to the board of governors at 11 post-secondary institutions, Alberta Health Services, the Workers Compensation Board, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC), and Municipal Government Board.

It’s a lot of change all at once, and while board member changes are not out of the ordinary on their own, the fact these were all announced at once is a bit of a surprise.

“This is not new, the NDP did the same thing, just not as quickly,” said Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt. “When the NDP came into power, they did something quite similar. But there were people who they waited until their appointments ran out and then they filled them.”

The changes include new board chairs at the University of Calgary, Mount Royal University and SAIT.

Geeta Sankappanavar, president of Grafton Asset Management, will serve as board chair at the U of C; Scott Thon, president and CFO of AltaLink, is the new board chair at SAIT; and Alex Pourbaix, president and CEO of Cenovus Energy, will be the board chair at MRU.

The University of Alberta’s new board chair is Kate Chisolm, senior vice-president, Chief Legal and Sustainability Officer for Capital Power.

In total, there are 43 new appointments spread out across NAIT, Athabasca University, Banff Centre, Bow Valley College, Grande Prairie Regional College, Keyano College and MacEwan University.

The majority of the appointees replace members put in place by the previous NDP government. They were not due for replacement for months or years from now.

A release states the appointees bring strong financial and industry experience, and Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides says they will build strong relationships with industry and ensure better labour market outcomes.

“The top priority for us, of course, is to ensure that these boards have the strongest level of financial acumen and business and management experience,” said Nicolaides. “I’m very confident that these individuals will help strengthen labour market outcomes of the institutions and help ensure that young Albertans are able to find rewarding careers in the future.”

Nicolaides asserted they made the selections based purely on their credentials, not political ideology.

But these were not the only changes on a busy morning, as the UCP also appointed two new members to the Alberta Health Services board.

David Weyant, CEO of the Alberta Lawyers Insurance Association and the Alberta Lawyers Insurance Exchange, and Brian Vaasjo, president and CEO of Capital Power, have been appointed.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro says the new members add financial, legal and business expertise.

The moves come as the UCP looks to reduce costs to AHS and conduct a review of the organization.

Also, in a bid to save money, the Workers Compensation Board has been reduced from ten to seven members.

The UCP did not specify who would leave the board, other than mentioning current board member Erna Ference will replace Grace Thostenson as board chair.

Thostenson is the business manager of the United Utility Workers’ Association.

The government says these changes will save $56,000.

Bratt suggested there is an underlying strategy to the WCB adjustment.

“It just removes diversity,” he said, comparing it to Thursday’s announcement of a panel examining the minimum wage. “They stacked it with restaurant groups and independent business groups, and even the servers that they added were of high-end restaurants who all seemed to be relatives of the owners of the place.”

The list goes on, as the government also named a new board chair and members to the AGLC.

Len Rhodes, former CEO of the Edmonton Eskimos and a failed candidate for the UCP in the provincial election, will now be the board chair of the AGLC.

“Parachuted in as a candidate in Edmonton, loses the election but gets appointed to the AGLC,” Bratt pointed out.

Three new members were also added to the AGLC board, after five board members left the organization including former chair Gael MacLeod.

All of the members are appointed for three-year terms.

Three new members were selected for the Municipal Government Board as well, who have decades of experience in law, real estate and strategic planning.

And finally, a new appointment has been made for the Rules of Court Committee.

William J. Kenny, a lawyer and partner with Toronto-based Miller Thomson LLP, will join the committee which makes recommendations to the Justice Minister regarding amendments to the Alberta Rules of Court and plays a role in ensuring the justice system operates effectively and efficiently.

Overall, there are mixed messages if these are purely ideological choices, as Nicolaides and other UCP officials claim is came down to credentials.

“I’ve heard repeatedly from different stakeholders in the post-secondary world — be it students or other individuals — that they’ve had some challenges with the skillset of their boards, so my approach has been to look at this from a skills standpoint and to ensure that we have some of the strongest individuals possible,” said Nicolaides.

“I don’t think they’re partisan at all,” said Environment Minister Jason Nixon, after speaking at a Calgary Chamber of Commerce luncheon. “My understanding is the breakdown of percentages are pretty clear that most of the appointments are not people associated with the party. We’re focused on competence and the best people that can do that job to help us get the work done that we need to do as a province.”

Bratt disputes the official position, as he said the NDP made appointments to fit their ideology, and the UCP have done the same here.

“They represent the broad stroke goals of the UCP,” he said. “The strategy is to get rid of every vestige of the NDP as quickly as possible.”