Canada’s new Finance Minister has entered with a whisper, ushered in during a private ceremony where he departed with barely a word.
Joe Oliver took over the critical portfolio Wednesday in a secretive ceremony at Rideau Hall, following Tuesday’s announcement that Jim Flaherty was stepping down. Mr. Oliver, 73, is a former Bay Street investment banker who has served as Natural Resources minister since being elected in 2011.
Wednesday’s Rideau Hall ceremony was modest – Mr. Oliver arrived to take Finance, Greg Rickford arrived to take over Mr. Oliver’s old role and MP Ed Holder arrived and was added to cabinet to take over from Mr. Rickford as Minister of State for Science. The ceremony also included Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor-General David Johnston.
“It’s a great day,” Mr. Oliver said as he arrived. “Great day, I have to tell you. What an honour,” Mr. Holder added as he left. That was the extent of the comment on a day when Canada got its first new finance minister in eight years.
Mr. Harper’s office closed the event off to the public. It was not announced. Journalists who arrived anyhow were cordoned off outside for hours. Mr. Harper’s staff used his motorcade of black vehicles to block views of him entering and existing the building, and the three ministers entered and left with little more than platitudes.
During the last major cabinet shuffle in July, a video feed had given the public an eye into the proceedings, and brief press conferences followed with Mr. Harper and, separately, two ministers. None of that took place this time.
The government said Mr. Oliver would not be holding a press conference with the media Wednesday.
The Toronto MP moved directly to the Conservative front bench from Bay Street when he first won his seat in the riding of Eglinton-Lawrence in May, 2011. In his first three years in Ottawa, the 73-year-old became one of the Conservative government’s most well-traveled ministers, zig-zagging the globe preaching the virtues of Canada’s energy sector as opposition to it, and the oil sands in particular, surged.
Armed with a master of business administration from Harvard University, the bilingual Montreal native spent years working as an investment banker with Merrill Lynch brokerage before taking the reins as executive director of the Ontario Securities Commission. He then served as chief executive of the Investment Dealers Association of Canada, a lobby group and self-regulating body for the securities industry.
Mr. Harper was forced to replace the only finance minister he has ever had after Mr. Flaherty announced his resignation on Tuesday. Though Mr. Flaherty’s future had been the subject of speculation for months, his resignation came as a surprise. It’s unclear when he’ll step down as an MP.
The next finance minister faces a slow-growing economy, but with an expected surplus. For the first time since the recession, the Conservatives will have money to spend in their next budget, as Mr. Flaherty’s 2014 budget forecasts cumulative surpluses of at least $33-billion over the coming four years.
Mr. Rickford represents Kenora, Ont. and was first elected in 2008. He is a bilingual lawyer and nurse with an MBA from Laval University. He has represented the government as a parliamentary secretary on aboriginal files, which will be an important responsibility at Natural Resources given the need for Ottawa to consult First Nations on resource development.
Mr. Holder, who represents London West in Ontario, was also elected for the first time in 2008. This is his first cabinet assignment.
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