Alberta premier replaces finance, energy ministers

Wed Jan 13, 2010 6:51pm EST
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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Alberta's premier, facing an onslaught of criticism over his handling of the oil-rich Canadian province's finances and energy policy, replaced the ministers in charge of those departments on Wednesday to try to win back support from conservative voters.

Premier Ed Stelmach's cabinet shuffle had been expected as his Progressive Conservative party government has suffered dwindling support in the province that is among the largest foreign suppliers of oil and gas to the United States.

Stelmach said the changes were necessary as economic conditions have changed dramatically in the last 12 months.

"In order for us to respond, we require a new focus and we also require a new team with expertise and experience," he told reporters.

But voters in the province of 3.5 million people have become increasingly disgruntled after he ran Alberta's first deficit in more than a decade. Meanwhile, his relations with the powerful energy industry have worsened and popular support for the party has been shifting to the fledgling, further right-of-center, Wildrose Alliance.

Among key changes, Ted Morton, who was minister of sustainable resource development, becomes finance minister, replacing Iris Evans. Morton is seen as one of the government's most socially conservative members.

Ron Liepert, who was health minister, becomes minister of energy, replacing Mel Knight. Liepert is a onetime telecom executive and public relations consultant.

Stelmach and Knight have faced years of attacks from the oil industry for high-profile changes to the energy royalty structure, then frequent tinkering to try to stave off a huge drop in drilling.

The premier said he realized that market conditions have changed, especially in the natural gas industry, where the development of shale gas in the United States and British Columbia has led to forecasts of booming supplies and low prices.   Continued...