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Stephen Harper cracks fiscal whip <br/>and tries to make nice with Quebec Add to ...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's tinkering with his cabinet today signals his concern about fiscal discipline as the country begins to recover from the recession.

Moving fiscal Conservative and former Alberta finance minister Stockwell Day into the key role of Treasury Board president signals the Prime Minister needs a disciplinarian in that post to tell his colleagues "no" when they come begging for more money.

Mr. Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who was not affected by today's shuffle, have repeatedly warned the stimulus funding taps will be turned off shortly and the focus of government will be wrestling down the deficit.

That's where a strong force like Mr. Day comes in, especially since Mr. Flaherty has vowed no new taxes and no cutting of government spending.

Mr. Harper signaled that economic focus in his remarks after the shuffle, speaking first about the need to reduce the deficit and create jobs. The March budget will certainly tell the story of what Mr. Day is expected to do as well as how the government will ride out this year politically.

"As our economic action plan comes to an end and we prepare to reduce the deficit, it will be essential for the government to limit public spending," the Prime Minister said.

"The president of Treasury Board plays a critical role in monitoring government expenditures. I am giving this task to one of the most senior members of cabinet … Stockwell Day."

And although Mr. Harper says he doesn't want an election, he is leading a minority government that could fall at any time. And this cabinet tinkering gives him an election-ready team.

In addition to moving Mr. Day, the Prime Minister has elevated Quebec MP and former public works minister Christian Paradis into the Natural Resources portfolio.

"[This]puts a Quebecker in an important energy and environment portfolio, which is an irritant between Quebec and Canada on the best of days," a senior Tory strategist says. "He'll have a tough job but I think the symbolism is important."

Indeed, the Quebec and federal governments are not seeing eye-to-eye on climate change initiatives. It's become a public problem, with Premier Jean Charest blasting the Prime Minister last week about his position when the two were together in Quebec City.

As well, moving Peter Van Loan from Public Safety to International Trade is also being interpreted as strategic.

Former Treasury Board chief Vic Toews has moved into that spot. He is a law and order guy, and security issues are expected to return to the forefront - perhaps even as a good wedge issue during an election for the Tories.

Mr. Van Loan, meanwhile, was seen to be effective in the security portfolio.

The Prime Minister was given this opportunity to tinker with his cabinet as a result of the resignation this weekend of Veteran's Affairs minister Greg Thompson.

Mr. Thompson is remaining as an MP from New Brunswick. There is some speculation he may go to the Senate.

In all, 12 players were affected by this shuffle. There is one new face in Rob Moore, a young MP from New Brunswick who takes over the provincial cabinet vacancy left by Mr. Thompson. Mr. Moore is the new minister of state for small business and tourism.

So, as in all shuffles, there are winners and losers.

The biggest winner is Rona Ambrose. The 40-year-old Edmonton MP gets a big promotion and a second chance after being dumped from the environment portfolio. She moves to the huge Public Works post, which controls government contracting.

However, Lisa Raitt, who was once considered a star in Ontario, was demoted to the junior Labour post. She had been Natural Resources minister but had been seen to bungle the isotope file by leaving sensitive files behind and had also been caught on tape disparaging a cabinet colleague.

There were also rumours that former Foreign Affairs minister Maxime Bernier might make a triumphant return after having to step down when he left secret documents in his girlfriend's apartment. And although the Prime Minister has recently been friendlier toward Mr. Bernier, he was nowhere to be seen this morning.

 

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