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Government House Leader John Baird speaks to reporters in Ottawa on May 16, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Government House Leader John Baird speaks to reporters in Ottawa on May 16, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Baird vaults into Foreign Affairs in new, 'stable' Harper cabinet Add to ...

Stephen Harper is appointing one of his most trusted lieutenants, John Baird, as his new Foreign Affairs minister when he announces his first majority government cabinet Wednesday.

The Ottawa-area MP's elevation to one of cabinet's most senior posts comes at a time when Canada struggles to regain its profile on the world stage during a period of political and economic upheaval.

Mr. Baird earned his reputation as a nimble and reliable operator for Mr. Harper, delivering the Prime Minister's message and marching orders wherever needed from Treasury Board to Environment to the House Leader's Office.

The Prime Minister is unveiling his new cabinet at Rideau Hall at 11:15 a.m. E.T.

Key ministers including Finance Minister Jim Flaherty are expected to stay in their current portfolios in keeping with the "strong, stable" government campaign pitch that Mr. Harper made on the campaign trail.

The main theme, sources say, will be continuity and stability.

Mr. Harper is unveiling a medium-sized shuffle Wednesday that insiders say will leave the cabinet roughly the same size it is now.

His existing cabinet is 38 ministers strong.

He has got to fill six cabinet vacancies created by retirements and election defeats.

But sources say the task of shuffling incumbent ministers to fill these holes has created a domino effect that's led to a bigger reworking of the ministry.

Mr. Baird's appointment to Foreign Affairs - a post that is also really Mr. Harper's bailiwick as Prime Minister - assures the Conservative Leader he has an international spokesman who is surefooted and able to respond quickly to developments in the Middle East or relations with the United States.

Canada is working to maintain its international clout even though it is withdrawing from a combat mission in Afghanistan and has been outranked in importance by newly industrialized countries from India to Brazil. It lost a bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council last year.

Other than Foreign Affairs, the other senior post to be staffed Wednesday is Treasury Board, the department responsible for keeping a rein on spending in Ottawa as the Conservatives work to dig the federal government out of deficit by 2014-15 as promised.

Insiders caution against expecting a lot of fresh faces Wednesday, saying only a small number of newly elected MPs and re-elected backbenchers will be vaulted into the cabinet.

Because there are relatively few opportunities for backbenchers to move into cabinet, the Tories are going to play up the importance of Parliamentary Secretary posts with a major overhaul of these appointments. Parliamentary Secretaries are MPs appointed to serve as aides to ministers.

Sources say the shuffle of Parliamentary Secretary positions - to take place at a later date - will be bigger than the cabinet shuffle and will be a training ground for junior MPs to prove their mettle. It will be a pool of "ministers in waiting," insiders say.

To start, Mr. Harper must accomplish four things:

He must bring Newfoundland and Labrador into the cabinet fold after the province elected Tory MP Peter Penashue on May 2. He's the first Conservative MP for Newfoundland and Labrador since the Tories lost their only three seats there in the 2008 election.

Mr. Harper must give a greater role to Toronto. The Conservatives made big gains in the Toronto area in the election, winning two-thirds of the Greater Toronto Area seats - including ridings in the city's core where the area code is 416. Potential candidates from Toronto include Joe Oliver, a bilingual investment banker, and Mark Adler, founder of the Economic Club of Canada speakers forum. Other GTA cabinet hopefuls include career diplomat Chris Alexander, elected in Ajax Pickering.

Mr. Harper must also reach out to Quebec, where the Tories lost six seats in the May 2 election. It's expected that incumbent Tory minister Christian Paradis is up for a promotion. The Conservatives have also been considering returning Maxime Bernier to cabinet, close to three years after he was booted for leaving NATO documents at his then-girlfriend's house. The Beauce-region MP remains popular at home.

Finally, the Prime Minister must fill at least two cabinet seat vacancies in B.C.

Several senior ministers are expected to stay put, including Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

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