South Peace News
When Danielle Larivee decided to run in the 2015 provincial election, the chance of becoming a cabinet minister was the furthest thing from her mind.
Even getting elected, as a candidate for the NDP, was a stretch of the imagination.
“At the time,” says Larivee, “I was hopeful that with a lot of hard work, I would find myself as an opposition member.”
Most political experts wouldn’t have gone that far. But Alberta voters had other ideas, and Larivee and her NDP colleagues found themselves in power in the spring of last year.
But why did she choose the NDP in the first place?
“I looked at their platform and what I saw was a commitment to fairness and equality, two values I have held very dear since was a child.”
Almost before she got her feet wet in her new and unexpected role as an MLA, Larivee found herself co-chairing [with Dr. David Swann] a mental health review. Larivee says there were huge challenges in that task, and she’s “very proud” of what was accomplished.
Not bad for a Slave Lake girl, nurse and mother of three, whose previous political experience was as a local rep for the nurses’ union.
But there was more to come. Much more.
Larivee must have made a decent impression in those first few months, because late last year, Premier Rachel Notley, appointed her Minister of Municipal Affairs.
“With the creation of the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade there was an opening in cabinet,” Larivee says.
And how is that going so far?
“It’s an incredible amount of work. It’s like being the CEO of a mid-sized corporation.”
The workload obviously diverts her attention from her constituency, although recently she’s been attending a lot of events in Lesser Slave Lake. She says she relies pretty heavily on her assistants who man the constituency offices in Slave Lake and High Prairie. Even in cabinet, she says she makes a point of representing the interests of northern and rural Alberta.
“I also very much like to make sure the perspective of Aboriginal people is recognized.”
Municipal Affairs is not normally one of the higher-profile cabinet posts. But if Larivee hoped to stay ‘under the radar’ while figuring it out, she didn’t get her wish. Shortly after her appointment she made big news by lowering the boom on Thorhild County, dismissing three councillors for not following department directives. The process that led to that action started well before Larivee was minister. It began with a petition signed by over 20 per cent of the county’s citizens, requesting a government review of how the county was being run. Out of that came an investigation and a set of directives from the minister, which were not followed.
“It doesn’t happen very often,” Larivee says. “I would never take that action lightly.”
As is usual, what makes the news is a very small part of what a ministry does. In the case of Municipal Affairs, it involves offering support for Alberta’s 344 municipalities, each of which – it’s pretty fair to say – want more from the province than they’re getting.
The demands for her time and attention are huge – not unlike certain other jobs.
“My nursing background comes in very handy,” Larivee says. “Triage – you deal with what you can in the time you have. Deciding the best options, putting them into action. At the very base level, listening to people – something I’ve done my whole career.”
The highlight of the job so far, Larivee says, is what the department was able to do in supporting Fort McMurray during the recent crisis. Another is the review of the Municipal Government Act she’s supervising.
“I feel [it] will bring us into the current century,” Larivee says.
Explaining, she says, quite bluntly, collaboration between municipalities will become mandatory.
The Regional Tri-Council [Slave Lake, M.D. of Lesser Slave River, Sawridge First Nation] is an example of how this is happening; there are lots of where it isn’t.
“Due to a lack of collaboration you have fire halls right next to each other,” Larivee says. “They’ve [the two jurisdictions] obviously never had a conversation.”
Another project Larivee is keen on aims to improve the province’s support for those who suffer uninsurable losses in disasters.
“It was a big issue in the High River floods,” she says. “There were substantial issues, that re-traumatized people. We worked to make substantial changes, and will continue to make it more responsive, more compassionate.”
More responsive and more compassionate – a tall order in any field of endeavour – and the effort continues.
Larivee says she’s working to build relationships with municipal governments across the province.
“Also, all the other people that interact with municipalities.”
It’s a lot of work.
“Honestly, I love it,” Larivee says. “Everything I’ve ever done has brought me to where I am. I feel really privileged.”