Alberta auditor general Merwan Saher discusses his report in Edmonton on Thursday Aug 7, 2014. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Alberta NDP cries foul as Speaker Cooper names new legislature clerk

Shannon Dean will replace Merwan Saher as the clerk of the assembly effective immediately

Alberta’s legislature has a new clerk of the assembly, but it’s a move the opposition NDP says smacks of political skulduggery and manipulation.

Legislature Speaker Nathan Cooper has announced that longtime senior parliamentary counsel Shannon Dean will replace Merwan Saher as the clerk of the assembly effective immediately.

It’s a non-partisan job that will see Dean oversee the administration of the legislative offices and work hand-in-glove with Cooper as he makes rulings on legal issues and precedents in the house.

Dean has also done the job in an acting capacity before.

Cooper says while the decision is not a knock on Saher, he wanted to move in a different direction with Dean.

Saher is Alberta’s former auditor general and was named to the clerk job in February, just weeks before a provincial election that saw Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservatives win government.

Cooper was then selected as the new Speaker.

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley, in a news release, suggested that Saher was let go as part of a covert plan by Kenney to politicize key non-partisan jobs in the legislature to muzzle dissent.

“Today’s replacement of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly is an unprecedented and shocking development that raises serious concerns about the level of non-partisan service that can be expected by members of the Official Opposition from the Speaker’s Office and the associated Legislative Assembly Office,” said Notley in the news release Friday.

While Cooper is a member of Kenney’s United Conservatives, the Speaker is considered independent and serves all members equally.

Cooper, in an interview, fired back at Notley, saying it was his decision alone.

He labelled the attack an unfair smear on Dean’s two decades of non-partisan service to the legislature, noting that Notley did not raise an objection to Dean when Dean recently held the clerk’s job in an acting capacity.

“Frankly, I was quite surprised to see the statement from the leader of the opposition turning this into a partisan issue,” said Cooper.

“(Dean) is literally one of the most respected table officers in the entire country.”

Dean becomes Alberta’s ninth clerk of the assembly and the first woman to hold the job.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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