Two Quebec ministers were demoted in Thursday's cabinet shuffle, while the only new face from the province entered the government as a junior minister.
The situation is a clear reflection of the Conservative Party's lacklustre performance in Quebec in the past election, and it highlights the challenges facing Prime Minister Stephen Harper in regaining momentum in the province.
Overall, Quebec's five spots in the Harper cabinet gave it 14 per cent of the 37 available positions, which is less than the province's 23-per-cent share of the Canadian population.
Mr. Harper said it simply reflects the fact that on Oct. 14, Quebeckers elected only 10 Conservative MPs, which was one fewer than at dissolution. Mr. Harper pointed out that during the recent campaign, he had warned voters that he was not ready to name senators to his cabinet, as he did with former public works minister Michael Fortier in 2006.
"I indicated during the campaign that I would only appoint elected MPs to the cabinet," Mr. Harper told reporters.
The only new face is Minister of State Denis Lebel, a former small-town mayor who will oversee Quebec's economic development agency. The genial MP has little profile outside the Lac-St-Jean region, but the portfolio will offer him an opportunity to quickly make a name for himself across Quebec.
Mr. Lebel takes over from Jean-Pierre Blackburn, who was demoted by being posted to National Revenue.
Mr. Blackburn's perceived failings since 2006, according to Conservative officials, were a tendency to go off-message and to fuel political crises with a sometimes confrontational style. In particular, Mr. Blackburn angered a lot of municipal and regional leaders across Quebec with his cuts to non-profit regional development organizations.
The other demotion was handed to Josée Verner, who was seen to have mishandled relatively small cuts to cultural programs in her previous department of Canadian Heritage. Ms. Verner insisted throughout the past election campaign that Quebeckers were siding with the government on the issue, but the consensus in Conservative circles is that widespread anger over the cuts were the beginning of the end for hopes of expansion in the province.
Ms. Verner is now going to the lower-profile position of Intergovernmental Affairs.
As predicted, former transport minister Lawrence Cannon moved to Foreign Affairs, all the while losing his position as Quebec lieutenant.
Under Mr. Cannon's leadership, the Conservative Party stagnated in Quebec, instead of reaching its objective of winning five to 10 new seats. In addition, the Conservatives slipped to third place behind the Liberals in much of the province.
The new Quebec lieutenant is Public Works Minister Christian Paradis, who will have to heal a rift, exacerbated in the election campaign, between the provincial supporters of the Quebec Liberal Party and the Action Démocratique du Québec.
Conservative officials said that one of Mr. Paradis's assets is the fact that he is not associated too closely with any of the two factions.
Mr. Harper called on his Quebec MPs to put the Conservative Party first.
"I expect all my ministers to work together when it comes to our organization in Quebec," he said. "We must have a team approach."
Canada's Conservative minority government
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