Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest) moved quickly to shuffle his cabinet this week in the wake of the resignation of Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson (New Brunswick Southwest) over the weekend. The shuffle is part of the Prime Minister’s “recalibration” of his government during the prorogation of Parliament. In all, 12 MPs were affected by the change. And the exercise was more than a mere tinkering by the Prime Minister, as it does signal a shift in the government's focus as it prepares for the budget in March.
The largest shift appears to be a move away from big-spending, with billions committed in infrastructure investments in response to the global economic crisis, to a government poised to attack a new and significant federal deficit. Another apparent shift seems to be a renewed interest in the relationship between the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec.
Tuesday's shuffle saw a number of key changes, but is also telling for some changes that were not made.
The following is a summary of some of these moves. Attached in Appendix "A" is a complete list of the federal Cabinet.
The cabinet shuffle signals a shift in economic focus. The Prime Minister has sent strong signals that stimulus measures for a beleaguered economy are coming to an end, and an era of economic restraint, with an eye to a return to balanced budgets, lies ahead.
The most significant appointment announced today is Stockwell Day’s (Okanagan-Coquihalla) move from Minister of International Trade to President of the Treasury Board, where he will play a lead role in changes to program spending and overall government priorities.
Day brings to the portfolio significant experience from his days in provincial politics, having served as Alberta’s Treasurer (Minister of Finance) in the Ralph Klein government. Along with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty (Whitby-Oshawa), Day will face an enormous challenge in addressing Ottawa’s deficit, which is already estimated at $56 billion for the current fiscal year. With little appetite for tax increases, and a commitment to maintain provincial transfer payments, the federal government’s deficit reduction efforts will focus heavily on reducing its own expenditures.
Day maintains his secondary cabinet file as Minister responsible for the Pacific Gateway.
The second key change in the Prime Minister’s cabinet shuffle is the appointment of former Public Works and Government Services Minister Christian Paradis (Mégantic-L’Érable) to the portfolio of Natural Resources. Paradis inherits a portfolio rife with complicated files – particularly with respect to Canada’s nuclear industry. The shutdown of the National Research Universal reactor has jeopardized the world supply of medical isotopes, AECL has experienced delays in its refurbishment of New Brunswick’s Point LePreau power plant, and the Crown Corporation has recently announced its intention to seek a buyer for its CANDU arm.
In addition to these demanding nuclear files, Paradis may find himself working to ease growing inter-provincial tensions on energy and climate change matters. He will also be expected to play a key role in improving the government’s standing in Quebec.
Ministers Day and Paradis both sit on the Cabinet’s powerful Priorities and Planning Committee.
Replacing Mr. Paradis at Public Works and Government Services is Rona Ambrose (Edmonton-Spruce Grove). Her move from Labour is not only a promotion in portfolio, it signals a renewed confidence from the Prime Minister in a member previously seen as one of his caucus’s rising stars. Given the size of her new department, and the possibility of government asset sales, Ambrose may see a significant role in executing the government's fiscal agenda. Completing the three-way move, former Natural Resources Minister, Lisa Raitt (Halton) will replace Ambrose in the Labour portfolio.
A new face from Atlantic Canada will join the cabinet as Rob Moore (Fundy-Royal) takes over as Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism. With the recent retirement of now former Veterans Affairs minister Greg Thompson, Moore’s move into cabinet keeps the tally of New Brunswick ministers at two.
Another notable change occurs in the complex and demanding Public Safety file, which sees former Treasury Board President Vic Toews (Provencher) take over from Peter Van Loan (York-Simcoe) who moves to International Trade.
Former Revenue Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn (Jonquiere-Alma) will see two portfolios come under his direction as he assumes responsibility as Minister of Veterans Affairs and continues as Minister of State for Agriculture. Blackburn is being replaced at Revenue by Keith Ashfield (Fredericton) who will also take over responsibility for the Atlantic Gateway while assuming increased ministerial responsibility for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. This is a major promotion for Ashfield and it signals the Prime Minister’s growing confidence in the New Brunswick MP.
In another move, Senator Marjory LeBreton (Ontario), the government leader in the Senate, will relinquish her responsibilities as Minister of State for Seniors to Diane Ablonczy (Calgary-Nose Hill), who many view as an under-utilized talent in the Harper cabinet. Ablonczy is the former Minister of State for Tourism and Small Business.
As expected, most of the heavy-hitters in the Harper cabinet, all Cabinet senior veterans of the Ontario Conservative governments of Mike Harris will stay in their posts. Top cabinet performers including Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Transport Minister John Baird (Ottawa-West - Nepean) and Industry Minister Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka) remain unchanged in their Ministries, which is a clear signal that the Prime Minister has retained confidence in his government’s performance throughout the recent economic recession.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon (Pontiac) will also stay at his post, while Minister Peter MacKay (Central Nova), who has been under fire from the opposition for the Afghan detainee issue, will stay at Defence, while relinquishing his responsibly for the Atlantic Gateway.