It was more refresh than reset as Prime Minister Stephen Harper elevated some of his party’s telegenic stars to cabinet – only to see one in particular quickly emerge as a controversial pick.
The cabinet unveiled by Mr. Harper on Monday included eight new faces, four women and four men. Some had emerged of late as trusted media spokespeople for the Conservative caucus, including Michelle Rempel, Chris Alexander and Kellie Leitch. All were promoted.
“It’s an emotional moment for us, but we have no illusions about the job we have to do, about how hard the work will be,” Mr. Alexander said of his new role. He and Ms. Rempel were sent to speak to journalists outside Rideau Hall, a signal they may continue their roles as spokespeople – only Mr. Harper himself and Denis Lebel, the regional minister for Quebec, also spoke to reporters after Monday’s ceremony.
“We’re going to continue to rely on that experience from Prime Minister Harper, from others in the cabinet,” said Mr. Alexander, who takes over from Jason Kenney as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.
Cabinet now also includes Pierre Poilievre, a contentious selection. It was Mr. Poilievre who once said Mr. Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, did an “honourable thing” by writing a personal cheque to embattled Senator Mike Duffy. And now it’s Mr. Poilievre who will serve as Minister of Democratic Reform, a key role in advancing Senate reform.
The NDP dismissed the 34-year-old, bilingual, Ottawa-area MP as a “perennial Conservative attack-dog,” with NDP deputy leader Megan Leslie saying Mr. Harper is only trying to “look like he’s putting a fresh face on a tired government” with the new appointees.
Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc, meanwhile, said Mr. Harper only appointed those willing to loyally repeat the party’s position and who “demonstrated an ability to do no thinking of their own.” He singled out Mr. Poilievre.
“You’ve chosen probably the worst offender in terms of parroting the lame talking points, and you’ve given him a portfolio at a time when there’s a considerable and growing concern about democratic institutions and parliamentary institutions, including the Senate,” Mr. LeBlanc said.
In a statement Monday, Mr. Poilievre echoed a line previously used by the PMO – the Senate must either change or vanish – and said the Conservatives are the only party with a plan to reform the Senate, suggesting he expects to continue his attack-dog role. “I believe in the Prime Minister’s democratic reform agenda and will work to make it happen,” he said.
Ms. Rempel was appointed Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification and, at 33, is cabinet’s youngest member. Ms. Leitch, a physician, becomes Labour Minister.
The other new faces include Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, Minister of State for Finance Kevin Sorenson; Minister of State for Social Development Candice Bergen; and Minister of State for Science and Technology Greg Rickford. Mr. Harper also returned former cabinet ministers – New Brunswick’s Rob Moore and British Columbia’s John Duncan – to the front bench.
MINISTERS IN THE HOT SEATS
It’s always nice to get a promotion and a pat on the back – but promotions sometimes mean challenges.
Just ask the following five people, who were given new, first-time, or return cabinet portfolios by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday.
Jason Kenney: The new Minister of Employment and Social Development, Mr. Kenney has been a top cabinet performer and will have to bring those abilities to this ministry as it is transformed into more of an economic portfolio. His task is to align the many vacant jobs to the unemployed people who don’t have the right skills to fill them – something the Prime Minister sees as a major economic roadblock. That will require major changes in the way the department does business.
James Moore: Mr. Moore takes over from Christian Paradis as Industry Minister. Mr. Paradis was never able to adequately articulate the government’s plans in this key portfolio and who could not set the complicated wireless telecoms file on the right track. The decision to allow new competitors into the wireless market has led to large numbers of marginal providers that have done little to improve consumer happiness. Now it is Mr. Moore’s chance to sort it out.
John Duncan: Mr. Duncan becomes Minister of State and Chief Government Whip as tensions simmer on the Conservative backbench over efforts by the Prime Minister’s Office, and former whip Gordon O’Connor, to keep strict control. Mr. O’Connor, who was a brigadier-general in a former life, brought a military temperament and precision to the job. Mr. Duncan is more mild-mannered. Perhaps he is Mr. Harper’s charm offensive.
Lisa Raitt: The transport file has traditionally been low profile but the horrific train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que., this month changed that. The opposition has, rightly or wrongly, blamed the government for cutting public safety and questions are being asked about whether the rail industry needs more regulation. Ms. Raitt, who was a strong performer in the Labour Ministry, will be at the centre of that storm for months to come.
Pierre Poilievre: Mr. Poilievre, who has been the government’s front man on ethical issues, is now in charge of reforming a Senate that is under intense scrutiny for spending violations. Mr. Poilievre’s predecessor as minister state for democratic reform, Tim Uppal, had a bad run. Much of his legislation went sideways. Senate reform has been on the agenda for years with no movement forward. Will Mr. Poilievre be hamstrung like those who have gone before him?