Prime Minister Stephen Harper will choose from his majority of federal MPs in determining the composition of the next Conservative cabinet, but selecting the right mix of ministers is no easy task.
Here are some factors Mr. Harper will be considering in advance of an anticipated cabinet shuffle, which signs suggest is being delayed, potentially until next week.
THE REGIONAL FACTOR
No region can be entirely ignored in making a cabinet, meaning some people would be tough to replace.
In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador has no Conservative MPs and, therefore, no minister. National Revenue Minister Gail Shea is Prince Edward Island’s lone Conservative. Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield has asked to leave cabinet, leaving Bernard Valcourt as New Brunswick’s sole minister among eight Conservatives. Peter MacKay is the only cabinet minister among Nova Scotia’s four Conservative MPs.
In Quebec, the Conservatives have only five MPs. Four already have senior or junior cabinet posts.
Environment Minister Peter Kent has signalled he may be left out of cabinet, which could open a spot in the Greater Toronto Area, while vast Northwestern Ontario has no cabinet presence.
Vic Toews’s retirement this week opens up a cabinet spot in Manitoba, while the looming retirement of Ted Menzies and Diane Ablonczy may do the same in Alberta. In each case, the Prime Minister has a long list of MPs to choose from. The Conservatives have 21 MPs in B.C. and, currently, four cabinet posts, two of them junior.
Finally, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq is the top-ranking northern MP, and only four other ministers have held a portfolio longer.
In cabinet and outside of it, there are precious few who are trusted to carry the flag – the spokespeople able to deftly defend the government’s record. Some, as such, may be due for a promotion.
In Question Period, Heritage Minister James Moore was a frequent go-to speaker for the government this spring. The Vancouver-area MP has held the same post since 2008. He was regularly called upon to defend the government over the Senate spending scandal and the actions of the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright.
Others Conservative MPs are regulars on television and radio political panels, if not in Question Period. As of late, that list has included Michelle Rempel, Chris Alexander, Pierre Poilievre, Kellie Leitch, Stella Ambler and Eve Adams. None are currently in cabinet.
WOMEN AND ETHNIC MINORITIES
A significant complement of women and some representation of Canada’s diverse ethnic makeup are two of the keys to good cabinet-building – and also two of the more difficult elements to accomplish.
Mr. Harper has lost two female ministers since 2011 – Marjory LeBreton and Bev Oda – and he may remove the departing Ms. Ablonczy as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. So he needs some replacements.
Manitoba MP Candice Bergen, the government’s voice in the dismantling of the long-gun registry, may get the nod. Shelly Glover, also from Manitoba, is bilingual and Métis but she is also in a spot of trouble with Elections Canada. There are also some women among the rising stars.
As for diversity, Ms. Aglukkaq is Inuit, Seniors Minister Alice Wong is of Chinese heritage, and Democratic Reform Minister Tim Uppal is Sikh. That may provide them with some job security because, while one in five Canadians is a member of a visible minority, minorities are significantly under-represented in Parliament.
JIM FLAHERTY, THE LINCHPIN
Mr. Flaherty has held the plum Finance post since the Conservatives first took office in 2006. And the government boasts repeatedly about his handling of the Canadian economy. So it would seem counter-intuitive to suggest that Mr. Flaherty might be among those changing portfolios.
But sources say Privy Council bureaucrats have been asked to compile a full briefing book for the person who will be Finance Minister after the shakeup, which suggests Mr. Flaherty’s job may indeed be in play. That could create a domino effect that would rumble through the entire ministry.
Mr. Flaherty has been suffering from a rare skin malady that has left him with a puffy face and disrupted his sleep. But his aide said in May that he is feeling better and is “looking to advance the economic portfolio over the coming months and years ahead.”
If he is shuffled to give the government a new look, it would have to be a senior position, perhaps Foreign Affairs.
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