‘Unprecedented:’ Clerk of Alberta legislative assembly fired

Former clerk Merwan Saher was fired by Speaker Nathan Cooper on Friday.

Newly elected Speaker Nathan Cooper has fired the clerk of the legislature.

Merwan Saher, who was appointed by Cooper’s NDP predecessor days before the election, was let go on Friday.

Saher was replaced by Shannon Dean, who has worked in various non-partisan roles at the Alberta legislature for more than 20 years. She was acting clerk before Saher’s appointment.

Dean is the first woman in Alberta’s history to hold the full-time role as clerk.

The clerk works under the Speaker, with a swath of procedural and managerial responsibilities.

‘Absolutely not’ political: Cooper

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley slammed the move as “unprecedented and shocking.”

“(It) 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 (LAO),” she said in a statement.

“Merwan Saher’s only crime can be described as being a nationally respected public official with a multi-decade long record of objective, neutral and exceptional public service.”

Cooper, UCP member for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills, dismissed that suggestion, telling Postmedia he simply made the decision to “go in a different direction.”

He said Dean’s appointment as clerk was “absolutely not” political.

“I think Ms. Dean’s 20-plus years of non-partisan, legislative assembly service speaks to the fact it was a very non-partisan appointment,” Cooper said.

Saher was Alberta’s auditor general for eight years. Prior to that role he worked in the public service for close to four decades.

Cooper wouldn’t weigh into Saher’s performance as clerk, but said a number of MLAs had raised “significant concerns” about the timing of his appointment by an NDP Speaker just before the election.

“It is not unprecedented by any stretch of the imagination for deputy ministers to change, which essentially is what the clerk of the legislative assembly is in Alberta,” Cooper said.

Notley said Cooper made his decision without consulting the Opposition or going through a formal hiring process.

She called it “part of a co-ordinated effort by the UCP to muzzle those that don’t agree with the new premier and to suppress the democratic traditions of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.”

Cooper responded that the legislative assembly office “should be very pleased to work under the leadership of Ms. Dean.”