Stephen Harper is leaving his economic team in place, as the Prime Minister unveils a new cabinet Monday that aims to revitalize an administration beset by recent scandals and flagging popularity.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Treasury Board President Tony Clement and International Trade Minister Ed Fast are expected to retain their portfolios, according to government sources, as the Conservatives work to eliminate the deficit, re-engineer the public service and conclude major trade agreements in time for the 2015 federal election. Removing Mr. Fast from his role, as the government seeks to land a free-trade deal with the European Union, could undermine negotiations.
“The economy remains a top priority,” Mr. Harper said on Twitter Sunday evening, announcing the shuffle.
The new cabinet, scheduled to be unveiled at 11 a.m. Monday at Rideau Hall, will also include “new faces and younger members, along with experienced hands,” one senior Conservative source said, with more female cabinet ministers in particular. Recent polls show that the Senate scandal and other travails have the Tories trailing the Liberals.
Mr. Harper has long maintained he is the only leader who can be trusted to protect the economy and public finances, and he clearly believes fundamental change in the key economic portfolios would contradict that message.
Mr. Flaherty, who has served as Finance Minister since the Conservatives first took office in 2006, had publicly declared that he wants to keep his job, though he has been battling a painful skin condition for months.
With eliminating the deficit in time for the election the government’s single biggest priority, it follows that the Finance Minister who brought Canada through the recession in relatively sound shape should be kept on to ensure the books are balanced on schedule.
Trade agreements are the other major commitment of this administration, and things have not been going well. An ambitious trade accord with the European Union remains unsigned, talks with India are not progressing as planned, while the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership talks are far from complete.
Removing Mr. Fast from International Trade would signal Mr. Harper’s displeasure with his performance. But Mr. Harper is said to not hold Mr. Fast personally responsible, and confidence remains high that the European deal will get done. Pulling the minister at such a critical stage could be damaging.
Mr. Fast arrived in Ottawa Sunday evening, saying he has “absolutely no comment” on whether he’d keep the same position.
Another major priority for the Conservatives is to rein in public-service entitlements while making it easier to dismiss poor performers and reward merit. With the government and its unions going into contract talks, Mr. Harper apparently felt it was best to leave Mr. Clement in place to lead those negotiations.
It was Ray Novak, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, who began phoning ministers and cabinet newcomers with their new assignments Saturday night, The Canadian Press reported.
Recent resignations have left Mr. Harper with holes to fill in his cabinet, meaning that new faces won’t necessarily force familiar ones out entirely. Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield and Ted Menzies, the Minister of State for Finance, have asked to be kept out of cabinet, while former Public Safety minister Vic Toews has resigned and Environment Minister Peter Kent has signalled he expects to be frozen out. All those portfolios will have new ministers.
Mr. Ashfield’s vacancy leaves one spot open in New Brunswick. Another Conservative MP from the province, Rob Moore, arrived in Ottawa Sunday evening. Asked why he was in Ottawa, he grinned and replied, “seemed like a nice place to be.” He declined comment on the shuffle. First elected in 2000, Mr. Moore hasn’t been in cabinet since 2011. He previously held a junior cabinet role, as minister of state for small business and tourism.
Mr. Toews’s departure opens a spot in Manitoba. Another of the province’s MPs, Shelly Glover, arrived in Ottawa Sunday.
Asked about the shuffle, she said, “I don’t know, but I’m here.” Ms. Glover declined to say whether she would be included in the new cabinet. “I’m very proud to be a part of the Conservative caucus. Whatever he decides, the Prime Minister, it’s his prerogative,” she said, later concluding: “Whatever happens, happens.”
Veteran cabinet stalwart Gerry Ritz, currently Agriculture Minister, cancelled a Monday event in Saskatoon and would instead be in Ottawa for “meetings,” his office said. He has served as agriculture minister since 2007, and is scheduled to attend a meeting with his provincial counterparts Wednesday. A spokesman said he didn’t know what Mr. Ritz’s cabinet fate would be.