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Maxime Bernier is sworn in as minister of state for small business and tourism during a ceremony at Rideau Hall on May 18, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Maxime Bernier is sworn in as minister of state for small business and tourism during a ceremony at Rideau Hall on May 18, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

PM makes the most of tiny Quebec caucus Add to ...

Quebec keeps a strong presence in the Harper government even though the Conservatives got trounced in the province in the recent election, with four out of five MPs appointed to cabinet, including two to powerful economic portfolios.

And Prime Minister Stephen Harper lived up to his promise to ensure full regional representation in his government, making the lone Conservative MP in Newfoundland, Peter Penashue, the first Innu cabinet minister.

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Quebec played an important role in the election, not just for the rise of the New Democratic Party but also because voters there defeated a number of Tory heavyweights - Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Josée Verner and Lawrence Cannon.

But in Wednesday's cabinet shuffle, Mr. Harper gave the province a number of seats at the table, including bringing back Maxime Bernier, who resigned in scandal in 2008 after confidential briefing notes ended up in the hands of his controversial ex-girlfriend.

The Prime Minister said Mr. Bernier "deserved an opportunity" to come back, appointing him as a junior minister for tourism and small business.

Another Quebec MP, Steven Blaney, joined cabinet for the first time at Veterans Affairs, while two other Quebec ministers got promotions, with Christian Paradis going to Industry and Denis Lebel to Transport.

"We have a small caucus [in the province] but these are strong MPs who won their seats despite the wave [of NDP support on May 2]" Mr. Harper said.

The lone Conservative MP from Quebec who didn't make the cut was Jacques Gourde, a vocal critic of the Bloc Québécois who will now be expected to turn his guns against the New Democrats, who make up the Official Opposition in the House of Commons.

The only Conservative MP in Prince Edward Island, Gail Shea, went to Revenue, having been replaced at Fisheries and Oceans by New Brunswick's Keith Ashfield.

Mr. Harper had quite a team of newcomers to play with in Ontario, where he ignored star rookies such as former diplomat Chris Alexander and surgeon Kellie Leitch. The lone representative of Toronto's 416 area code is Joe Oliver, who will inherit the thorny nuclear file at the Department of Natural Resources.

Leona Aglukkaq retained her position as Minister of Health and remains the only cabinet minister from Canada's three territories.

Ontario is by far the biggest player at the cabinet table, with 15 ministers, including prominent ones such as John Baird at Foreign Affairs and Jim Flaherty at Finance.

Alberta is in second place with six ministers, followed by British Columbia, which is tied with Quebec in third place with four ministers. Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick each have two cabinet members, while Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland have one each.

Mr. Penashue is the new Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and will be expected to negotiate a deal between Ottawa and St. John's on hydro-electric development in his province.

Mr. Bernier has spent three years on the outs in Ottawa ever since he came under attack over his controversial relationship with Julie Couillard, a woman with ties to members of biker gangs in Quebec. Mr. Bernier lost his cabinet position after his confidential briefing documents ended up in her hands.

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