In a significant retooling of the Conservative government after a scandal-plagued spring, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has brought eight new faces into his cabinet – including those of four women – and shuffled some significant portfolios.
Many of the old guard will remain, especially in the economic portfolios. Jim Flaherty will retain the pivotal role of Finance Minister, Ed Fast stays in Trade, Joe Oliver keeps Natural Resources and Tony Clement does not move from the Treasury Board.
That may maintain continuity as Mr. Harper heads into the fall with other ministers who are just learning their jobs.
“This is really the commencement of something I told all ministers at the beginning of this Parliament. That, in the course of this mandate, I would bring generation change to the ministry. This is an important step forward in terms of that,” Mr. Harper said after the swearing in of what he called his “renewed ministry.”
“I think this is a good mixture of some young and promising talent we have in our caucus, and some experienced hands, and obviously we’ll be giving more details of our policy plans when the House returns in the fall,” he said, pledging a renewed policy agenda in the fall, including a Speech from the Throne.
The main goal of the shuffle was to give new life to the Conservatives, who have been drifting downwards in public opinion polls. A spending scandal in the Senate and a caucus rebellion have made life difficult for Mr. Harper and his team – things the Prime Minister will have to find ways of putting behind him as he begins preparing for the election in 2015.
In one of the key changes, Peter MacKay and Rob Nicholson will swap roles. Mr. MacKay goes to Justice and Mr. Nicholson goes to Defence. Mr. MacKay has had some tough times in the Defence portfolio, flubbing the acquisition of a fleet of F-35 fighter jets and embarrassing the government when it was reported that he called a military helicopter to airlift him from a personal vacation at a fishing lodge.
Among the cabinet newcomers is Chris Alexander, a former ambassador to Afghanistan. He takes on Citizenship and Immigration – a post coveted because of the clout its minister has in a Parliament where all MPs deal regularly with immigration matters.
Mr. Alexander takes over from Jason Kenney, the veteran MP who has held the immigration portfolio since 2008. Mr. Kenney, who has been pegged as a potential successor to Mr. Harper as leader of the Conservatives, becomes the Minister of Employment and Social Development, the new name for what was the human resources ministry. If job creation remains a priority for the government, this could be a lead post.
The renewal effort means Mr. Harper will have a number of younger ministers sitting with him on the front benches. And, perhaps in an effort to appeal to female voters, several of the plum positions have gone to women.
Two female MPs have been moved from parliamentary secretary jobs to ministers’ offices. Shelly Glover from Manitoba is the new Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages and Kellie Leitch from Ontario, who is also a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, is the Minister of Labour and Minister for Status of Women.
Two other women have been elevated to junior cabinet jobs. Candice Bergen, who was the government’s lead voice in the dismantling of the gun registry, is the Minister of State for Social Development and Calgary MP Michelle Rempel is the Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification. Ms. Rempel is the youngest Conservative caucus member at the age of 33 and has been a regular spokesperson for her party.
Meanwhile, some of the veteran female ministers are getting promotions.
Lisa Raitt, who has been a solid performer in Labour, moves to Transport, which could be a hot topic in the aftermath of the Quebec train disaster. Leona Aglukkaq, the MP from Nunavut, goes from Health to Environment. Rona Ambrose, who has been praised for her work as Public Works Minister, will take over in Health. Diane Finley, who was the Human Resources Miinister, takes over in Public Works.
And Kerry-Lynne Findlay from British Columbia, who was the associate minister of national defence, gets a promotion to Revenue Minister.
Some of the men, on the other hand, got a demotion.
Peter Kent was dumped from Environment – and is the only senior minister still in Parliament who was not returned to cabinet in some position.
Christian Paradis, who was Industry Minister, moves to International Development which is losing its importance as it is taken under the Foreign Affairs umbrella. And Denis Lebel, a Quebec minister, loses the Transport portfolio. He will be the Minister of Infrastructure, Communities and Intergovernmental Affairs.
In a surprise move, John Duncan, who had resigned earlier this year from Aboriginal Affairs, is back in cabinet as the party whip.
Julian Fantino, the former police chief who was the Development Minister, moves to Veterans Affairs.
Steven Blaney takes over Public Safety.
Mr. Harper’s office used a new social media strategy by announcing the cabinet changes through tweets from the @pmharper account. Previously, details of cabinet changes were closely guarded secrets with reporters being handed lists of the ministers and their respective portfolios just prior to the swearing-in ceremony.
The Liberals dismissed the shuffle, saying it’s cosmetic when power still flows through the Prime Minister’s Office. “The only minister with any power in this cabinet is the Prime Minister. Today’s shuffle does nothing to change that,” Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said on Twitter.
And other critics pointed out that many of the major players will not be moved, leaving a ministry that does bear strong resemblance to the cabinet it is replacing.
John Baird retains his Foreign Affairs job, Gerry Ritz stays in Agriculture, Bernard Valcourt does not move from Aboriginal Affairs and Peter Van Loan is still the House Leader. P.E.I. MP Gail Shea returns to Fisheries, a portfolio she previously held, after a stint as National Revenue Minister.
But there have a number of new additions at the more junior levels.
Pierre Poilievre, an Ontario MP who has been the government’s point man in Question Period when ethical questions have been asked, will be Minister of State for Democratic Reform.
Greg Rickford, the lone Conservative MP in Northwestern Ontario, was appointed minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Initiative in Northern Ontario (FedNor) which puts him out front on the mining development in the Ring of Fire.
Kevin Sorenson, an Alberta MP, becomes Minister of State for Finance, taking over from Ted Menzies who said he no longer wanted a cabinet role.
Rob Moore, a New Brunswick MP, will become the Minister of State for the Atlantic Canada Opportunity Agency and the Regional Minister for New Brunswick and Newfoundland.
Mr. Menzies, Diane Ablonczy, Keith Ashfield, Gordon O’Connor, Peter Kent and Steven Fletcher were left out of this cabinet. Mr. Ashfield is battling cancer and asked to be excluded as did Mr. Menzies. Ms. Ablonczy said she would not be running in the 2015 election. Mr. O’Connor, at age 74, had been in cabinet since 2006, and his departure gives way to what the Prime Minister described as a youth movement in the new cabinet.
Marjory LeBreton, who sat as a minister when she was Leader of the Government in the Senate, resigned from that job after a spending scandal that rocked the Red Chamber and there will no longer be a Senate seat in cabinet.
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