At its core, the new Conservative cabinet is a strong and experienced group that will ensure a smooth transition to a majority government. But at 39 ministers and ministers of state, it is overstuffed, showing that Stephen Harper is still captive to received political wisdom about how cabinet-making should please all sub-regions and constituencies.
With Jim Flaherty in Finance, Jason Kenney in Immigration, Diane Finley in Human Resources and Peter MacKay in Defence, the cabinet has experienced, talented ministers in key portfolios. Although John Baird does not yet have sufficient foreign-affairs experience to articulate a vision for Canada on the world stage, he has the undisputed advantage of Mr. Harper's ear and trust. And Tony Clement's demonstrated ability to handle the most complex files at Industry makes him a good choice to lead the government's deficit-reduction efforts at the Treasury Board.
But the surfeit of colleagues will make Mr. Clement's job harder. Why does Canada need an associate minister of defence? Surely the realm was well-defended when we had only a single defence minister. Do we really need a minister of state for sport, for small business, for transport or finance, with all the expenses these entail, while their functions could be filled by parliamentary secretaries, or by more senior ministers? Moreover, such a large cabinet makes the idea that each minister is equal even more of a fiction.
Mr. Harper was right to elevate four of the five Quebec Conservative MPs. Mr. Harper was dealt a difficult hand with respect to Quebec, but the province, with a quarter of Canada's population, is critical to national unity and needs strong representation at the cabinet table to respond to the Quebec-dominated NDP opposition.
The appointment of three senators defeated in their pursuit of Commons seats just 17 days ago is self-defeating, and probably should not have been announced on cabinet day. The cause of a democratic, reformed Senate is best served by appointing talented Conservatives (or Canadians who would accept appointments as Conservatives) who have not just been rejected by the people in a democratic election.
Throughout the election campaign, Mr. Harper said that Canada needed a steady majority government to guide the country through the turbulent times to come. The installation of senior and tested ministers in key portfolios puts Canada at the ready.