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Harper lays stakes in Toronto suburbs with pre-election shuffle

From left, Peter Kent, Diane Ablonczy, Ted Menzies and Julian Fantino at Rideau Hall for Tuesday's cabinet shuffle.

Chris Wattie/Reuters/Chris Wattie/Reuters

Tuesday's cabinet shuffle leaves no doubt: the next election, whenever it comes, will be decided in suburban Greater Toronto.

By elevating Peter Kent and Julian Fantino, key MPs in the GTA, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has declared he is willing to stake his political capital on winning that battle, and possibly forming a majority government.

Mr. Kent, a former minister of state for Foreign Affairs responsible for the Americas and MP for Thorhnill, succeeds Jim Prentice (and caretaker minister John Baird) as environment minister, charged with putting a happy face on the Conservative government's reluctant measures to curb the increase in carbon-dioxide emissions without impairing either development of the Alberta oil sands or the recovery of Ontario's manufacturing sector.

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Julian Fantino, once the head of the OPP and the Toronto Police, takes on the minor role of Minister of State for Seniors, rewarding the voters of Vaughan who sent him to Ottawa in November, ending 22 years of Liberal control over that riding. Greater things lie ahead for the former top cop, when the next major shuffle comes along.

Together, the two ministers form the vanguard of what the Tories hope will be a major advance in Brampton, Mississauga and other bedroom communities outside Toronto. The Conservatives know that if they can take the so-called 905 (after its area code) away from the Liberals, they could not only win that elusive majority government, but leave the once-natural-governing party in danger of extinction, reduced to redoubts in downtown Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, however, knows this as well as his Conservative foe. The party will throw everything it has into saving its GTA assets, even as it tries to erode Conservative support in the region and beyond.

Rewarding Alberta MPs Ted Menzies, who becomes Minister of State for Finance, and Diane Ablonczy, who gets Mr. Kent's old job, can be seen as Mr. Harper consoling the Tories' Western base, even as the Prime Minister turns his attentions and affections to the city the rest of Canada loves to hate.

Finally, the shuffle is important for what didn't happen: there were no changes in the crime/national security, senior economic or foreign-affairs portfolios. Mr. Harper is largely happy with the cabinet he has. That cabinet may well not be shuffled again until after an election.

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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