Basically a list of ways that Alberta's political boss expects her staff to do their jobs. You would think they'd be boring, behind-the-scenes pieces of inter-office correspondence with goals of "do your best" or "make your electors happy" ... but from recent media reports on the letters that have been sent by Alberta Premier Danielle Smith to her 24 department ministers, the orders are like chum, churning the political waters and the media headlines.
Last week, in her mandate letter to the Alberta Health Minister, the headlines said the Premier was looking to disband the AHS. A day or two later, in Smith's publicly-facing mandate letter to the Mike Ellis, the province's new Public Safety Minister, it was the lack of information that drew headlines when there was no mention of the much-discussed provincial police force in her orders to his department. Others like the one sent July 24 to Dale Nally, the minister of Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction simply state the obvious ... cut the tape, Dale. At the same time, some mandate letters, like the ones to Municipal Affairs and Forest and Parks, flew under the media radar, with little or no eye-grabbing headlines.
Of course, it depends on how the headlines are read. "Mandate letters reveal government's agenda" has been a popular one seen over the last few weeks. Well, yes they do; that's the purpose of such a letter from a boss. But if a person leans more to the left or the right political pole, it can sound sinister. And that is one of the problems feeding that chum-churning water boil.
The letters, and the fanfare to which the Premier first began releasing them into the public realm last November for the first time, are meant to cause a stir. They are meant to tease journalists looking for smoking guns or diamonds in the rough ... those devils hiding in the details. They are also meant to show the voters just how diligent their elected officials in government seats — not just the ones they voted for — are working to... well, to do their jobs.
In the end, the mandate letters are part of the political stage show. Each one has dozens of targets and recommendations. Most tell the ministers to continue doing great jobs for a great government, to work with other great provincial departments, to listen to the people and to be good ambassadors. There is a lot of information in the letters. But is it all just self-serving pats on the back for a government needing someone to like them? Or is all that information masking one or two bullet points that will be fired from loaded projects in the not-so-distant future?
Ironically — or perhaps intentionally — with all the questions generated by the content and the intent of these mandate letters that tell the public what her ministers are doing, the Premier has muddied the waters of what she is up to.