10/17/2017 15:11 EDT | Updated 10/20/2017 07:46 EDT

Former PC leadership candidate Sandra Jansen joins Alberta NDP cabinet

EDMONTON — Former Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Sandra Jansen is the new minister in charge of infrastructure in Alberta Premier Rachel Notley's NDP cabinet.

Jansen was sworn into the portfolio Tuesday in a ceremony at Government House.

The Calgary-North West MLA takes over the job from Brian Mason, who remains minister of transportation. Mason had been handling both duties for the last two years. He is also government house leader.

Jansen said she will shepherd major projects, including a new cancer treatment centre and the Green Line rapid transit project in Calgary.

"We have some exciting projects on the go and I want to make sure that I pay very close, personal attention to those," Jansen said.

Notley said bringing Jansen into cabinet is part of a sharpening focus on infrastructure.

"Putting Albertans to work today while building the infrastructure our economy will need for tomorrow is a key pillar of our economic plan," she said.

Notley said that plan is showing results and the Alberta economy is looking up after several bust years due to low oil prices. But she added there is still work to do, especially in Calgary where too many people are still looking for work.

"And that's why I'm appointing an experienced and well-known champion for Calgary as our new minister of infrastructure," she said.

Jansen left the Progressive Conservatives almost a year ago to sit with Notley's NDP. Jansen said at the time that her former party was moving to the extreme right on social issues and that the abuse she endured for her views during the party's leadership race had become intolerable.

She has been at the cabinet table before. She served for about a year in the PC government as an associate minister for family and community safety and addressed issues such as bullying and violence against women.

The former broadcast journalist and TV news anchor has become a galvanizing figure in the public discussion on abuse and treatment of women in public life.

Last November she gave a speech in the house on the abuse she and other women endure in public life, and cited in explicit detail the epithets she had been exposed to on social media.

For a while after she crossed the floor, she was granted a security detail because of death threats.

She had been a lifelong Tory before then, and was asked Tuesday what she would have said if someone had told her five years ago she would achieve her goal of full cabinet rank — but with the NDP.

"You could have knocked me over with a feather if you had shown me this scenario a year ago," she said, adding that views change and people grow.

"What I've gone through in the past year has given me an opportunity to really listen to my internal voice on issues of my moral and ethical framework. As terrible as some moments were — and honestly the death threats weren't great — at the end of the day it's been an incredible learning experience.

"And the (caucus) family that I got out of it is worth every moment of the pain because I feel like I'm in a place now where I can do my job surrounded by people who have my back."

Notley also elevated two backbenchers to parliamentary secretary positions to help government ministers, but they will not sit in cabinet or get cabinet pay.

Jessica Littlewood is the new parliamentary secretary for economic development, while Annie McKitrick will hold the same title in education.