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Parliamentary secretaries reflect Tory gains in Southern Ontario

Half of the 28 parliamentary secretaries the Conservative government has just appointed hail from Ontario, further proof if any were needed that a party rooted in the West is now dominated by the Centre.

Parliamentary secretaries typically assist, stand in for and try not to get in the way of ministers. The job, and the $15,800 pay boost that comes with it, is sometimes offered as solace for those who are unlikely ever to make it into cabinet, or a testing ground for new arrivals who might.

Among the latter, Ajax-Pickering MP Chris Alexander, who served as Canada's first ambassador in Afghanistan and who some observers thought could go straight into cabinet, instead was named in Wednesday's appointments as the youthful parliamentary secretary to Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

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Kellie Leitch, the pediatrician who dispatched former cabinet minister Helena Guergis in Simcoe-Grey, becomes parliamentary secretary for both Human Resources and Labour.

And Eve Adams, a former Mississauga city councillor, will assist rookie cabinet minister Steven Blaney at Veterans Affairs.

All three MPs are from key ridings in Ontario that the Tories fought hard to win (or in the case of Simcoe-Grey, hold), which is no coincidence. As with cabinet ministers, parliamentary secretaries are chosen in part to bolster the profile of MPs in newly won or vulnerable seats. Since the Harper government owes its majority to gains in urban southern Ontario, that region is prominently represented within the ranks of parliamentary secretaries, as it is among the cabinet ministers they serve.

The Tories will face a young and ethnically diverse NDP opposition with a large contingent of women. So it is no coincidence that of the eight freshman MPs appointed as parliamentary secretaries, five are women.

Of the three male new arrivals, Robert Goguen is an Acadian lawyer who turned the key New Brunswick riding of Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe Tory, for which he gets Justice, while Willowdale MP Chungsen Leung will inherit Multiculturalism, putting a visible-minority face to Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney's successful campaign to convince immigrant voters to support the Conservative Party.

In other words, all of the parliamentary secretaries who are also new arrivals are either young, female, or from a linguistic or ethnic minority.

Many veteran parliamentary secretaries, on the other hand, stay where they are, including Deepak Obhrai at Foreign Affairs, Colin Carrie at Health, Randy Kamp at Fisheries and Oceans, Tom Lukiwski in the House Leader's Office, Mike Lake in Industry and Pierre Lemieux at Agriculture, among others.

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Jacques Gourde, the only Quebec Conservative MP who was not named to cabinet, is Parliamentary Secretary for Public Works and for Quebec's economic development agency. So he will get to cut many ribbons.

Finally, the affable Laurie Hawn, who spent many long days defending the F-35 fighter jet purchase when he was Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, has been appointed to Treasury Board President Tony Clement's committee charged with reviewing government programs, where his skills at defending difficult decisions will once again be put to use.

In all, Stephen Harper has chosen his parliamentary secretaries as cautiously and as judiciously as he chose his cabinet. And for those left out, there are still parliamentary committee chairmanships to angle for before being truly consigned to the back of the bench.

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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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