New Cabinet

The cabinet has been shuffled.

Solberg is at Rideau Hall to accompany his good friend Chuck Strahl. Monte will not be getting a new portfolio. He will remain in HRSDC.

Monte’s pal Strahl goes to Indian Affairs. A good upgrade especially as a BC minister.

MacKay goes to defense and keeps ACOA. The higher visibility should help the Tories regain some ground in Atlantic Canada.

O’Connor to revenue. As the most obvious prediction of a portfolio change, some thought O’Connor would go to Veterens Affairs. The former defense minister now goes to a largely administrative portfolio.

Oda to international cooperation. Oda replaces Josee Verner in this portfolio. Some say she was a poor communicator in Heritage, lacking the ability to speak French, she now takes over the CIDA portfolio.

Jim Prentice goes to Industry taking over for Maxime Bernier. Prentice is said to be the hardest working minister in Harper’s cabinet and will bring his work ethic to this new portfolio.

Maxime Bernier is tapped for foreign affairs. Such a move will have both the effect of raising Bernier’s portfolio and gives Quebec a minister in a more elite department. Further, as Quebec’s Van Doos soldiers are in Afghanistan, having a good communicator in this portfolio from the province.

Josee Verner to Canadian Heritage/Women/Languages. An Oda/Vernier swap. Vernier gets promoted and Oda demoted. Verner will be well positioned to celebrate Quebec City’s 400th anniversary.

Gerry Ritz to Agriculture/Wheat Board. A promotion for the Saskatchewan MP was pretty much assured when fellow Saskatchewan MP Skelton announced her retirement. Skelton being that province’s sole representation in cabinet, her resignation created an opening for a Saskatchewan MP. I’ve heard that Ritz will press forward on market choice and fight against the Wheat Board.

And, Diane Ablonczy finally gets her due as Secretary of State for Small Business and Tourism…

…which puts a wee blotch on my cabinet prediction! I predicted that no backbencher would be promoted to cabinet. Perhaps this was an 11th hour decision?

But, as I predicted, nobody lost their job and it was a significant shuffle. Cabinet did not grow in size. Also, as predicted, Day and Baird stay in their portfolios.

Further, Bernier was shuffled, but not to defense nor finance as some predicted.

So, is this Canada’s New New Government? What are your thoughts? Does this put a new face on the Conservative government? Cheers, Jeers? Did Harper make a good shuffle today? The Globe reported that Harper would be decreasing the size of cabinet in order to prepare for an election. However, the usual knowledge is that cabinet in fact grows prior to an election to promote seats and as many faces as possible.

The Prime Minister is likely to prorogue Parliament and go ahead with a throne speech this fall. This shuffle is also timed to give ministers enough time to process their MCs and move forward before the fall. The PM will also draw thoughts from his new ministers for the expected throne speech.

Cabinet Speculation*

Ottawa is abuzz with cabinet speculation this week as the summer starts to wind down and there’s no election in sight. Between elections, I’m told, the parliamentary press gallery’s second favourite fix is speculating how the front bench of the government will change. Since the days are hot, and while filing stories about the arctic might cool some off it is still viewed as playing into the man’s hands, and since there are only so many grumble pieces that can be written, cabinet speculation will have to do.

I’ve been chatting with a few friends and sources about the topic and here’s what I’ve deciphered with a high level of confidence.

Ottawa staffers can breathe a bit of relief (just a bit though) because while Carol Skelton is retiring from politics, no other cabinet minister will be shuffled out of cabinet. There will be promotions and demotions within the cabinet structure, but no current cabinet minister will find themselves without a chauffeured car next week. Thus, contrary to some reports, Oda will remain in cabinet.

On the flipside, no back-bencher is to be promoted to cabinet this time around.

Therefore, besides Skelton, the cabinet will neither grow nor shrink.

The shuffle within cabinet itself will be substantial enough that it’ll make a few headlines. I previously speculated (but didn’t write) that a shuffle could be quite surgical and we’d see a trading of two or three portfolios without making other waves, but now I’m hearing that there will be more than a few ministers with new titles. The government might say that such a switch affords new experience to already very capable ministers. Most of us might acknowledge this while recognizing that some fine tuning is due.

Specifically, Maxime Bernier may be shuffled out of Industry (not entirely sure about this) but I can say with certainty that he will not be shuffled into defence or finance.

Security minister Stockwell Day will stay in his current portfolio as most Hill people (including press) have found him to be very capable in his current role.

John Baird is also staying in environment.

I can also say with a certain degree of confidence that there will be a throne speech this fall and that the government is not likely to be shocking the country’s system with a brand new set of priorities as there is a lot of the current agenda that still needs attention.

Has the media love affair with Dion already begun?

First, Kate McMillan and Bob Tarantino rout out a suspicious Dion friendly source used by CP.

Next, Lawrence Martin the Globe and Mail scribe, former Chretien biographer (two books…one was written under duress), and a man paid over $6000 by Liberal governments for two speaking jobs gives new Liberal leader Stephane Dion the highest of praises, and apologizes for one of Dion’s recent flip-flops (my comments in bold):

There is a suspicion out there that Stéphane Dion is a man of honour, a politician of dignity with true character. (there’s only one thing I’m suspicious of at this point Mr. Martin, and it’s not Dion)

True character is the reverse of trying to be all things to all people. It means not seeking others’ approval. (Lawrence never wrote any biographies about Paul Martin, you’ll note) When, as a political leader, you stop doing that, and just be the essential you, people want some of what you’ve got, some of that core. You’re the magnetic field. (oh captain, my captain!)

But politics is about selling, reaching out, pandering. (first hints of apology) And so here was St├ęphane Dion in his first week as Liberal leader, already in the grip of the ugly claws of the enterprise(the grip!… the ugly claws, poor Stephane!). He was faced with a middling controversy over whether he should maintain his dual French citizenship. It was a sensitive issue for him, one that cut to his heart and, in responding, he got testy. (I’ll make full disclosure for Lawrence Martin here… the Globe and Mail scribe is a dual citizen too)

His answer was sound enough (of course…), but he couldn’t help thinking of the political equation. Well, if maintaining my French citizenship loses me votes, he said, he might have to reconsider. In other words, let’s cast aside the principle involved here and make a decision on the basis of politics.

That wasn’t the man of honour talking. It was hardly the new politics. It was an example of him looking over his shoulder, seeing the dark shadow of pollsters in pursuit, about to smother the light within. (dark forces made Dion do it. Dion is made of pure light, by the way)

Martin then contrasts “honour” with big bad Stephen Harper:

Stephen Harper has an impressive skill set. He had a chance, himself, to bring more honour to governance. But since the opening bell when he elevated a floor-crosser and an unelected senator to his Cabinet, he has shown himself to be a leader whose abiding imperative is political opportunism (wow…). His Senate reform, announced yesterday, which would allow voters at last some say in Senate appointments, is a step forward that he need not have framed in the context of political partisanship. His brazen approach in this regard has cost him, as voters, turned off by this kind of politics, have responded with declining approval ratings. (brazen, turned off, declining!)

Hence the Dion opening is all the greater. The Leader of the Opposition must find a way to resist the temptation to respond in kind to the cheap attacks and slanders. To succeed, to avoid being dragged down into the brothel, the rules of engagement are many: He must be a champion of principle. He must remain stoic, keeping the level of discourse high and noble, holding to his true character (wow…). He must, while letting other caucus members tackle the seamy questions, be seen as frequently as possible with the other tower of integrity in the Liberal thicket, Ken Dryden.

It’s not difficult to figure out how Lawrence Martin votes.

Finally, when Dion named Ignatieff as the deputy of the opposition Liberal Party, it made the front page of the Globe and Mail. When Stephen Harper named Carol Skelton as deputy leader of the opposition Alliance party in 2003, no such fanfare from the Globe. However, it did make page A10 of the National Post!

UPDATE: You may have read in Macleans that Susan Delacourt and Greg Weston were snubbed from the PM’s media Christmas party. I’m also hearing that Delacourt, after her invite was “lost in the mail”, was trying to lobby her fellow PPG members to boycott the PM’s party. UPDATE: The pro-Delacourt camp assures me that this isn’t true!