Prime Minister Stephen Harper presented a bigger, better, more representative cabinet to Canadians yesterday. Whether the Prime Minister will use the new cabinet's new strengths to build a team, or whether he will run a one-man show as before, remains to be seen.
The cabinet is more representative, a good thing for the Conservatives and the country. There is one exception: The cabinet contains not a single multicultural Canadian, despite the impressive Conservative gains in some of those communities.
There are, however, more women ministers. Three new female appointees wound up with important jobs: Lisa Raitt from Ontario in Natural Resources, Gail Shea from Prince Edward Island in Fisheries and Oceans, and Leona Aglukkaq from Nunavut in Health.
Ms. Aglukkaq is the first Inuk in a federal cabinet, and hooray for that. She had extensive experience as a top civil servant and a finance minister in Nunavut.
She was not slotted therefore into a token post, but given a huge department with responsibility. Mr. Harper, to his credit, has taken Arctic matters seriously. That she won Nunavut testified to that; that he put Ms. Aglukkaq in an important cabinet post confirms it.
Equally heartwarming was the appointment of Steven Fletcher, who became a paraplegic after a tragic accident, as Minister of State for Democratic Reform. Mr. Fletcher earned his spot. The symbolism for the disabled community in Canada is wonderful. And democratic reform won't be a sinecure, given the government's stated determination to press on with Senate reform.
The cabinet is better for two reasons. Weak performers were demoted. A better match now exists in some key portfolios.
For example, Jim Prentice of Calgary in Environment. He's one of the very few ministers Mr. Harper listens to. Being in Environment testifies to the importance of the climate change file, the forthcoming tensions with Alberta over that file, and the need to pull the oil industry along.
The Harper climate-change approach will fail, at least in reaching its professed target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020. Mr. Prentice's job will be to improve the policy and somehow avoid Canada being pilloried in international negotiations.
Jason Kenney, the government's designated ethnic wooer, gets Citizenship and Immigration, a logical extension of his political responsibilities.
John Baird, now at Transport, and Peter Van Loan, now at Public Safety, are both partisan brawlers. Their new posts will remove them somewhat from the limelight, a withdrawal can only soften a bit the government's attack dog image.
James Moore, an up-and-comer from British Columbia, becomes Minister of Canadian Heritage. He doesn't carry that chip on his shoulder about artists that some Conservatives do. He's also bilingual, and therefore might be able to repair some of the damage done to Conservative fortunes in Quebec by the cuts to two small cultural programs.
Josée Verner, the previous heritage minister, drops into the black hole of Intergovernmental Affairs, a non-job since all important files in the field are handled by the Prime Minister. Jean-Pierre Blackburn, a big pork-barreller from the Saguenay, gets demoted to become Minister of National Revenues and Minister of State for Agriculture.
Speaking of black holes, Quebec's cabinet representation is thin and unimpressive, even though Lawrence Cannon got Foreign Affairs. (There being no one with any experience of world matters in this cabinet, why not Mr. Cannon?)
It's a telling commentary on the weakness of the Conservatives' small contingent of 10 Quebec MPs that Mr. Harper found only five worthy of cabinet posts. The other five must have been really weak to avoid being named minister of state for something or other.
The minister with the single biggest political job in cabinet will be Christian Paradis, promoted to Public Works but, more important, made political minister for Quebec, a province that broke Conservative hearts. He has to try to build a Conservative organization, rather than borrowing unreliable ones from provincial parties.
Newfoundland, of course, is without cabinet representation, courtesy of Premier Danny Williams' decision to declare a political jihad against Mr. Harper's Conservatives and the sway Mr. Williams holds over his fellow citizens.
The Premier's strategy worked, in the perverse sense that for the first time since joining Confederation in 1949, the province lacks a cabinet voice.