Harper to hold off further cabinet shuffle until 2013

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks at the opening of the World French Language Forum Monday, July 2, 2012 in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Stephen Harper put his sprawling Conservative caucus on notice that he’ll reward performers and punish stragglers in 2013 when he conducts a significant mid-term shuffle of cabinet ministers.

“We’ll take a look at how everybody’s performing and make some major changes at that point,” the Prime Minister said Thursday in an interview on a Calgary radio show.

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It’s perhaps the clearest direction any prime minister has given in recent memory on the schedule for advancement in his ministry, and it came one day after Mr. Harper surprised Ottawa-watchers with an almost stand-pat shuffle that moved just two ministers after the departure of Bev Oda.

The Conservative leader appeared to be reacting to public criticism of the lack of ambition in Wednesday’s cabinet reassignments.

His comments offer reassurance to caucus stars outside cabinet that he still intends to recognize their contribution. MPs have to believe there’s a clear path for advancement or it saps morale – especially dangerous in a big caucus of more than 160.

The deadline ensures that shuffle speculation dies down for the short term.

“I think between now and then let’s keep everybody focused on the job we got elected to do and the tasks I gave them to do last year,” Mr. Harper told talk-show host Dave Rutherford.

At the same time, the Prime Minister was signalling to any ministers who are thinking of retiring before the next election that they might want to firm up their plans and inform him so he can keep that in mind when building his 2013 cabinet.

Mr. Harper said he’s likely to start afresh a year from now, proroguing Parliament to usher in a new Throne Speech outlining what will clearly be a new pre-election agenda.

In the meantime, the Tories need to implement their current to-do list that includes a free-trade deal with the European Union, significant cuts to the civil service, streamlining reviews for big industrial projects, overhauling immigration and buying new military equipment.

The Prime Minister acknowledged he’d mulled proroguing – or ending the current session of Parliament – but concluded it was too early.

“To be honest, I thought about doing that, but some time ago I made a decision that I probably wouldn’t do it,” he said. “I didn’t see any reason to do it right now. We’ve still got a number of pieces of legislation we do want to pass, and I think what I’m more likely to do is probably in mid-term we’ll …have a new session.”

Mr. Harper’s Conservatives won office in May 2011 and the next federal election is expected in 2015.

Separately, the Prime Minister delivered a cautionary message on the economic front, renewing his warning to Canadians not to borrow too heavily in this period of “extraordinary low” interest rates.

He cast plans for more foreign competition in the wireless sector, more economically focused immigration, less environmental assessments of big projects and longer waits to begin collecting old age security cheques as efforts to leave Canada more prosperous.

“Rather than being one of these old economic powers that’s in trouble, we want to make sure that we join the club of emerging economic powers, and that our children and grandchildren are going to have the same kinds of opportunities, and better, than we’ve had,” he said.

On Wednesday, former Ontario top cop Julian Fantino was sworn in as the new minister responsible for CIDA, replacing the departing Ms. Oda. Bernard Valcourt, already minister of state for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, assumed Mr. Fantino’s job as associate minister of National Defence.

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