Opinion: Central Alberta gets voice at the cabinet table

By David Marsden

My, what a difference an election and a few days can make.

A short time ago, central Alberta had no representation around the provincial cabinet table. The snub meant Red Deer and surrounding communities had no one to speak up for the region and its interests, such as the long overdue expansion of Red Deer hospital.

It’s fair to point out Red Deer was treated reasonably well by the Rachel Notley government. University status for Red Deer College and important infrastructure investments — much of it connected to hosting the 2019 Canada Winter Games — were appreciated.

Still, an important and strategically situated region such as central Alberta deserved at least one seat close to where important public decisions were made and where power was being wielded by the short-lived NDP government.

By all accounts, former Red Deer MLAs Kim Schreiner and Barb Miller were capable individuals who represented the city well during their single term in office. Praise for their work is effusive, so it’s not a stretch to think at least one of them should have been invited to sit around the cabinet table.

It’s possible they declined a promotion, but that seems unlikely. Besides, the higher profile afforded by a cabinet position might have helped at least one of the pair survive Premier Jason Kenney’s blue wave on election night and hold part of the city for their party.

The tally of New Democrats who won their seats April 16 is dominated by one-time cabinet ministers. Former environment minister Shannon Phillips, for instance, kept her seat in Lethbridge despite the surge of popularity for the United Conservatives pretty much everywhere but in Edmonton.

In the cabinet announced Tuesday by Kenney, central Alberta has three seats at the table. The appointments are ones with heft: education for Adriana LeGrange, environment and parks for Jason Nixon and agriculture and forestry for Devin Dreeshen.

Local voters can be pleased by the acknowledgment of the region’s importance and Kenney’s assessment of the calibre of our MLAs. All three of the ministers have expertise in the areas covered by their challenging portfolios.

Central Alberta’s representation in cabinet is in stark contrast with Edmonton’s. The capital city has just one cabinet member, Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu.

That’s because Edmonton voters only elected one UCP MLA, which didn’t give Kenney much to work with. Calgary is the biggest winner, with more than half of the 24-member cabinet calling Cowtown home.

Calgary and Edmonton have much larger populations than central Alberta, so it’s fair to say Red Deer residents and those who live in outlying cities and towns can be satisfied with cabinet’s composition.

After too long, the region is no longer stuck on the outside looking in. It should be a harbinger of good things to come in the weeks and months ahead.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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