U of L works to educate new cabinet ministers

We are only a month into the new year, but there have already been some significant changes to both the provincial and federal political landscapes. These changes will pave the way for a renewed effort by the University of Lethbridge to continue a dialogue with the government about our strengths and challenges.

Speaking provincially, two former-government MLAs crossed the floor and a cabinet shuffle occurred that included some interesting changes. The most notable changes included Edmonton-based MLA Gene Zwozdesky becoming minister of health, while Calgary MLA Ron Liepert moved to energy. Former Sustainable Resource Development Minister, Ted Morton, became minister of finance and enterprise. The University will spend time during the coming months educating all new ministers about the impact the U of L makes in their respective areas in terms of teaching and research.

Doug Horner remained minister of advanced education and technology, but was also named Deputy Premier. This certainly speaks to the influence Horner has at the cabinet table.

There were a few other changes that have the potential to change the political landscape for southern Alberta. Former Minister of Agriculture, George Groeneveld, was moved from cabinet (his riding is situated just south of Calgary) leaving minister Rob Renner of Medicine Hat the sole minister south of Calgary. Groeneveld visited our campus three or four times during his tenure as minister and always expressed a willingness to understand the positions of the University.

The U of L, as it has done in the past, will make efforts to build relationships with all relevant ministers through meetings and tours of campus.

While the Lethbridge-area is without a minister, the four government members that are geographically close to the U of L have been handed duties above that of a private member. Lethbridge-West MLA Greg Weadick, for example, has been named parliamentary assistant to the minister of advanced education and technology. The U of L will certainly count on Weadick to help advance University messaging to his colleagues in government.

Other local appointments include Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Broyce Jacobs becoming the parliamentary assistant to the minister of agriculture and rural development, Livingstone-Macleod MLA Evan Berger remaining in his role as parliamentary assistant to the minister of sustainable resource development and Little-Bow MLA Barry McFarland being named as a member of the treasury board.

A small cabinet shuffle also occurred at the federal level this month, but the biggest news, as far as the U of L is concerned, is the announcement that Lethbridge MP Rick Casson will not seek another term in office. Casson, a former employee of the U of L, helped move along many files for the University. He knocked on doors to advance initiatives and was never hesitant to pick up the phone to ask about how a government policy might impact our institution. His work on our behalf was impressive. He will be certainly missed on the federal scene and will leave big shoes to fill.

Building relationships with elected and non-elected government members is important in ensuring effective communication between the U of L and decision-makers in Edmonton and Ottawa. Senior administration at the U of L has already begun to engage and re-engage government members to ensure productive working relationships are forged.

Richard Westlund is the University's director of government relations