Stelmach refuses to take questions after replacing communications staff

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach has shuffled the top three posts in government communications after blaming poor communications for his Tory government’s sagging popularity.

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach has shuffled the top three posts in government communications after blaming poor communications for his Tory government’s sagging popularity.

But the premier is refusing to answer questions on what needs to improve after changing his communications director and press secretary.

Alberta took a major hit on the communications front last year when it was revealed that a $25 million rebranding campaign used images of a beach in England to improve the province’s global image.

As the Tories began to plummet in recent polls, Stelmach came under increasing pressure to replace his communications team.

So the head of the Public Affairs Bureau was recently promoted, the premier’s press secretary has been reassigned and his communications director is retiring.

When the premier was asked what he expects from his new communications team, he simply responded by saying “better communications.”

When asked to elaborate, Stelmach would only say “better means better.” But when pressed about past communications failures, including the rebranding fiasco, the premier refused to respond.

He referred all questions on this issue to his new communications director, Cam Hantiuk, who returns to government after several years in the private sector.

Hantiuk replaces Paul Stanway, a former Edmonton Sun columnist, who is retiring.

The premier’s office announced Tuesday that Tom Olsen is leaving his post as press secretary to become Alberta’s director of media during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Olsen’s replacement is communications veteran Jerry Bellikka, who returns to the premier’s office for a second time.

Bellikka has worked in various ministries and was part of former premier Ralph Klein’s inner circle of communications advisers at one point several years ago.