Alberta Election 2015 – post-election & transition

Congratulations Ms. Notley!

Premier-Designate Notley may be exhausted by an exciting and successful campaign. She gets no respite.

It is noon on Election Day, plus 1, and Ms. Notley is undoubtedly deep into the next stage of this great play – the transition.

Her personal security arrangements have already changed. Negotiations are likely already underway for the formal swearing-in of the new Cabinet, which requires negotiations with Mr. Prentice about when the present Cabinet will have its offices cleared out.  The Office of the Lieutenant-Governor is involved. Shredding machines are already hard at work in the offices of Cabinet Ministers and many M.L.A.s. Senior public servants are starting to prepare briefing books such as they have not had to prepare for 43 years.

I was part of this the last time it happened (in 1971), so it appears to me that Ms. Notley has 11 major projects ahead of her, to be more or less completed through a span of about 10 weeks.

  1. She needs to calm her M.L.A.s, many of whom are giddy, some of whom are daunted by the mandate they have (unexpectedly?) been given, and some of whom are naïve and perhaps over-reaching about what can be accomplished in the next 60 – 100 days. She probably needs to calm her campaign and transition teams, as well. She also needs to bind the M.L.A.s and the backroom boys and girls together. (There is going to be some jockeying for position, with the elected people feeling their emerging role, and the unelected teams feeling justified by their success. From this day on there will be tension and the secret is not to eliminate the tension but to get as much productive energy as possible out of it.)
  2. She needs to decide whether she is going to perpetuate the well-established model of the paramount Leader, or break the mold and re-direct the government toward creating a team of leaders.  (Subsequently, the N.D.P. will have to choose between a highly centralized party organization, or a decentralized one that depends upon responsible self-discipline at the constituency level.)
  3. She needs to establish the initial boundaries of the new government’s culture, especially with respect to integrity, transparency, humility, inclusion, respect, careful stewardship of resources, and servant leadership.
  4. She needs to add depth to her leadership team. The size of the N.D.P. majority adds complexity to the challenges inherent in transition.
  5. She needs to create a Cabinet, including a somewhat detailed structure for Cabinet (Committees, work flows, etc.), and she needs to create a new structure for a much larger caucus. She needs to decide if she will have a Deputy Premier (from Calgary, or from rural Alberta?). She needs to decide who will be the Government House Leader (primarily responsible for relationships with the other parties in the Legislative Assembly). She needs to orient the M.L.A.s toward their Legislative role. She needs to ensure that relationships among her caucus members are sensitive and conducive to mentoring and coaching. (She does not want unhealthy cliques to develop within caucus.)  She needs to nurture a strong sense of ‘team’ among a very large number of people who may not know each other very well.
  6. The new government needs to get a first impression, as an insider, of the government’s real finances. (Really understanding this will take some time: her first budget will probably not be well grounded in the full reality of the province’s current financial situation.)
  7. The new government needs to develop a new Budget for 2015 – ’16, and then a new Throne Speech. Both the new Budget and Throne Speech need careful attention. Not all low-hanging fruit should be picked at this time: some of it isn’t ripe yet. On the other hand, the new government needs to take some bold initiatives, to demonstrate a change of direction, and new priorities. Albertans will want evidence that entropy has been replaced by energy, that aimlessness has been replaced by purposefulness.
  8. The new government needs to energize and re-direct the public service, which has become partisan-ized and demoralized over the past 20 years. This needs to be done carefully, since the public service needs to be substantially rebuilt, but its current condition is not of its own doing.
  9. The new government needs to take Cabinet and Ministerial appointments in hand. The sense of entitlement that Albertans recognized in the P.C. Party was not limited to M.L.A.s: it extended to some Albertans who felt they were entitled to serve on boards, commissions, and agencies because of their financial contributions to the P.C. party or because they had labored on its behalf as constituency association officers or campaign workers. (A note of caution. There are many Albertans who participated in public life through the P.C. party because they genuinely believed they could make a positive difference in the life of the province, and they saw themselves carrying the burden of P.C. party affiliation for what they hoped would be a greater public good. The new government does not want to tar everyone who has recently been inside the P.C. Party [even to the limited extent of hosting a lawn sign] with the same brush.)
  10. The new government needs to demonstrate how it views its relationship with local government — municipal government and school boards.  (In other posts [Local government — a different and better story] I have argued that local self-government is vital to democracy.  It is certainly vital to the success of what any provincial government hopes to accomplish.)
  11. The new government needs to shape the emerging narrative about itself. Others will be immediately trying to shape that narrative, by inquiring into the background of the new M.L.A.s, by costing N.D.P. proposals, by making spurious comparisons to other governments in other provinces, at other times.

Personally, I am excited by the election results. I am hopeful. I wish the new Legislative Assembly – all its members – well.

I certainly wish Ms. Notley and the new N.D.P. caucus every success in this transition.


P.S.      Until yesterday, I believe that only three M.L.A.s in the life of the province had been elected at age 25 or younger. I was one of them. I am delighted that so many young people were elected yesterday, and I would like to know how many how joined the “elected under 25” club. I hope – and expect – that your participation will contribute substantially to the emergence of a new and healthier model of democracy. A caution: do not allow yourself to be stereotyped as the M.L.A(s) mandated to answer the question, “what do young people want”. That stereotype does you and all Albertans a disservice while it distracts you from the role you will truly enjoy – as representative of all your constituents..


  1. David, I am not sure about the current state of the law and protocols in Alberta. Generally, however, there is only one government. One ‘administration’ should merge seamlessly into the next. That is, the Tories were not one government and the N.D.P. a new and different government. They are two administrations of one government. So, no Minister or M.L.A. should shred — or take — anything that is relevant to any matter of public administration, including anything that explains why decisions were made. This is equally true of matters that are individual in nature (such as the disposition of a WCB claim following an inquiry by an M.L.A.) and matters that have significant public policy implications (such as notes from an oil company C.E.O. to a Cabinet Minister). I think it is generally accepted that Ministers and M.L.A.s can keep (and take, or shred) private notes about meetings and contacts, provided that some public record of the meeting or contact remains in government files, and provided that the private notes do not contain material information that is omitted from the ‘government’ records.

    For those of us outside of government, the basic position is that no M.L.A. or Cabinet Minister is acting personally when they inter-act with us, re: government. If the M.L.A. for Edmonton Whitemud helps a constituent, the file remains the responsibility of the M.L.A. for Edmonton Whitemud, even when the person of the incumbent changes.

    This is an area that the new government will have to get on top of very quickly. They may want to talk to the Clerk of the Privy Council, in Ottawa. They may want to talk to some constitutional law and privacy experts. They may want to communicate very quickly to the Deputy Minister of Executive Council that they expect shredding and removal to be very closely scrutinized by the public service, notwithstanding the reality that most of the staff in a Minister’s office are exempt staff.

  2. David, what would you say about the law, and protocol, and politics around destruction of information, shredding, etc. during the transition? Thx for your answer, and for this tremendously useful post.

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