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john ibbitson

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The immigration job is done. The job now is training, while keeping the Toronto suburbs loyal.

Monday's cabinet shuffle features some surprising promotions – Shelly Glover arrives at Heritage, Kellie Leitch is promoted to Labour – and some not-so-surprising demotions – former environment minister Peter Kent and chief whip Gordon O'Connor are both gone from cabinet.

But the two names that matter most are Chris Alexander and Jason Kenney. A newcomer takes on a critical political challenge, while one of the government's most able troubleshooters tackles a vexing problem.

How each performs could well determine the success or failure of this government in the second half of its majority mandate.

Mr. Alexander, a rookie MP who was Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan during some of the most crucial years of the conflict, takes over Mr. Kenney's old job as Immigration Minister. It's a huge promotion.

But Mr. Alexander's job is as much about politics as policy. During his years as immigration minister, Mr. Kenney implemented major reforms: refocusing the system to reward applicants who have needed job skills and tightening the refugee system to deter false claims.

As the new Immigration Minister, Mr. Alexander will be charged with implementing those reforms. But he has another responsibility. The new Minister holds a riding in the so-called 905: the belt of suburban and ex-urban ridings surrounding Toronto, named after its area code.

The Conservatives owe their majority government to their breakthrough in the 905, where immigrants make up large minorities or even the majority of voters in most ridings.

So Mr. Alexander's job is to save his own seat and those of his colleagues as de-facto Minister of the 905. He must keep immigrant voters, especially, committed to the Conservatives, even as Justin Trudeau seeks to win those voters back for the Liberal Party.

Mr. Kenney's skill in cultivating so-called visible-minority voters is legendary. Now he takes on Employment and Social Development, a portfolio hived off from the human resources ministry, and with it a major new challenge.

In last spring's budget, the government announced important changes to labour training. Instead of simply cutting a cheque to the provinces, Ottawa wants to team with businesses and provincial governments to create job grants for employers able and willing to hire new workers.

The provinces are howling that the changes represent a loss of revenue and responsibility. Employers need to be convinced the new grants are worth applying for.

And the Canadian economy needs a job-training program that matches skills to demand in an era of both high unemployment and job shortages.

Mr. Kenney, in short, is being asked to do for job training what he did for immigration: make it work.

If Mr. Alexander and Mr. Kenney succeed, productivity will rise while unemployment goes down, and middle-class voters – especially immigrant middle-class voters – in the 905 will stay loyal in the next election.

If they fail, someone else may well be prime minister in 2015. No pressure, gentlemen, no pressure at all.

John Ibbitson is The Globe's chief political writer in Ottawa.