Cabinet shuffle pre-shuffle information

There’s been a lot of speculation in Ottawa this week about the imminent cabinet shuffle as a number of ministers have announced their retirement from federal politics. Here’s what we know.

Shuffle date:
We’re hearing that the shuffle is now scheduled for tomorrow (Monday)

Who is out:
Confirmed retirements: Toews (Public Safety), Ablonczy (DFATD, Consular affairs), Menzies (Associate minister of finance), Ashfield (Fisheries, ACOA)

Likely retirements: Kent (Environment), Ritz (Agriculture), O’Connor (Whip)

With O’Connor retiring, we’ve independently confirmed that Pierre Poilievre is getting the promotion and will sit as the other National Capital Region minister in cabinet with John Baird.

I’ve also heard that MacKay will be shuffled in a one-for-one swap where his legal skills will be of use (likely Justice). This was a shuffle certainty a while ago but this might have changed since.

With Ashfield out, Rob Moore is his likely (but unconfirmed) replacement.

Nobody expects Jim Flaherty to be shuffled out of Finance as his intention is to balance the budget by the next election.

We’re told the Prime Minister had fireside chats with members of his cabinet and from caucus to discuss their future plans. Older ministers who are retiring have been asked to step aside for new blood. Older ministers who have not indicated an intention to retire may have been asked to do the same (Kent). The only exception to this might be Flaherty and Oliver (both are in critically important political files at key junction points — Flaherty and budget balance and Oliver on the KXL decision).

One of my sources on the cabinet shuffle told me to expect a lot of new faces in cabinet.

Shelly Glover has been spotted in Ottawa today. She is a Manitoba MP who many observers speculate will be occupying a chair at Prime Minister Harper’s cabinet table.

I will update this post as I learn more.

Peter MacKay, in context

News from last week included the opposition finding outrage in an apparent discrepancy of cost estimation of the Canadian mission in Libya by Defence Minister Peter MacKay. In an interview on CBC’s The House with Evan Solomon last October MacKay had stated that the mission costs were coming in under a projected $60 million by about $10 million dollars. Recently, this figure was updated to $347 million. The opposition has accused the government of misleading Canadians on the cost of the Libyan mission as a result.

Here, for example is a report filed on CBC.ca,

Defence Minister Peter MacKay is defending the government’s accounting of the costs of Canada’s military mission in Libya, following the release of new figures by the Department of National Defence that lay out the final cost of the deployment.

The department puts the incremental costs of the mission — costs the military says would not have been incurred if Canadian Forces had not been deployed — at just under $100 million.

And the total cost of the operation — a figure that includes everything from jet fuel to pilot salaries, including the salaries of military personnel — comes in at $347 million.

Last October, MacKay told CBC Radio’s The House the Libyan mission had cost taxpayers less than $50 million.

“As of Oct. 13, the figures that I’ve received have us well below that, somewhere under $50 million,” MacKay said.

“And that’s the all-up costs of the equipment that we have in the theatre, the transportation to get there, those that have been carrying out this critical mission.”

Here’s what MacKay said in that interview (bolded for emphasis),

EVAN SOLOMON (HOST):
The mission in Libya is wrapping up. The Secretary General of NATO announced that there would be no extension, as the Libyan government has asked, until the end of the year. NATO wraps up its mission on October 31st. Can you tell Canadians what the cost of the Libyan mission was to Canadians.

PETER MACKAY (MINISTER OF DEFENCE):
Sure, the initial projection, as you know, going back some six months or more, would have us in the range of about 60 million dollars. As of October 13th, the figures that I’ve received have us well below that, somewhere under 50 million dollars. And that’s the all up costs of the equipment that we have in the theatre, the transportation to get there, those that have been carrying out this critical mission

EVAN SOLOMON (HOST):
Well it certainly will be a long process ahead, but you’re just confirming that the mission that Canada partook in, the seven-month mission, will cost Canadians all in 50 million dollars now.

PETER MACKAY (MINISTER OF DEFENCE):
That’s the figure I was given, so I’m giving you that number with the proviso that there could be more costs that come in after the fact. The fact that we are now ramping down the mission, bringing back significant equipment and personnel, some 650 were there, we have a ship in the area, we have aircrafts, fighter aircrafts, patrol aircrafts, refuelers.

Does this add unreported context? Did MacKay report the number he was given by his department by provided the caveat that more costs could come in? The CBC report does not mention this disclaimer on cost estimates and opposition upset over “misleading” Canadians does seems to hinge on the suggestion that MacKay was absolutely fixed on $50 million as a cost estimate. It would be fair to the Minister (and to the news consumer) to provide this extra context.

The CBC report does provide the government’s defence of the numbers, after the fact, and only after they were accused of misleading Canadians last week,

The minister continued, “Of course, the mission went on. There were extensions … there was, in fact, then the cost of bringing equipment and personnel home. This is incremental costing.”

At an event in Edmundston, N.B., on Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted the total figure of $347 million includes the ongoing costs of operating the Canadian military, and he defended the earlier estimates.

“We always give the most up-to-date figures and it’s important also to know … that these figures include normal operations of the Canadian military, of those assets over that period,” Harper said.

However, from the original material from the date and interview under scrutiny, and from CBC no less, we see MacKay provide proviso of those cost estimates. Why is this not reported?

Liveblogging the cabinet shuffle

9:52AM: Rob Nicholson, Gail Shea, Leona Aglukkaq, Peter Kent and Peter van Loan, Chuck Strahl show up to Rideau Hall

9:52AM: And Christian Paradis, Jim Prentice. CTV has speculated Prentice to environment.

9:54AM: John Baird has arrived.

9:55AM: Some MPs showing up in Blue Line cabs, some in airport cabs, some in their own cars.

9:55AM: Rona Ambrose shows up. Rumour is she’ll move to HRSDC.

10:00AM: Lynne Yelich is at Rideau Hall and Stockwell Day

10:01AM: James Moore arrives

10:03AM: Rahim Jaffer has shown up. Probably to support his newlywed wife Helena Guergis.

10:06AM: Jim Flaherty arrives with wife Christine Elliot.

10:08AM: The Prime Minister’s motorcade makes its way up to Rideau Hall.

10:16AM: Rumour is that Jason Kenney is moving to Citizenship and Immigration. You heard it here first.

10:25AM: Cabinet embargo about to end. Should have the list up soon.

10:31AM: Other MPs at Rideau Hall: Bev Oda, Peter MacKay, Keith Ashfield, Gary Lunn, Chuck Strahl, Gordon O’Conner, Tony Clement, Gerry Ritz, Stephen Fletcher, and Lawrence Cannon.

10:40AM: Here we go. Here comes cabinet into the hall.

10:44AM: Nicholson stays in Justice, no surprise there.

10:45AM: Greg Thompson at Veterans Affairs, Chuck Strahl at INAC, Vic Toews at Treasury Board

10:48AM: Bev Oda at CIDA, Flaherty at Finance, Gerry Ritz at Agriculture

10:50AM: Jean-Pierre Blackburn to Revenue. Aglukkaq to Health. Finley to HRSRC.

10:55AM: Raitt to NRCan, Day to International Trade and Asia-Pacific Gateway.

10:55AM: Ambrose to Labour.

10:58AM: Prentice to environment. The could be to negotiate new regs with the provinces when it comes to GHG emissions. Alberta will need to sit down with the federal government soon to finalize the new regulations for the oil and gas sector.

11:00AM: Baird goes to Transport/Infrastructure.

11:01AM: Cannon goes to Foreign Affairs.

11:02AM: Tony Clement goes to Industry.

11:05AM: Josee Verner to intergovernmental affairs.

11:05AM: Jay Hill to House Leader.

11:05AM: PVL to Public Safety.

11:07AM: Jason Kenney to Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

11:08AM: Christian Paradis to Public Works.

11:09AM: James Moore to Heritage and Official Languages.

11:14AM: Gail Shea to Fisheries.

11:16AM: Gary Lunn to Sport.

11:17AM: Gordon O’Connor to Government Whip.

11:18AM: Helena Guergis to Status of Women.

11:19AM: Diane Ablonczy stays at Small Business.

11:20AM: Rob Merrifield to Minister of State (Transport).

11:22AM: Lynne Yelich to Western Economic Diversification.

11:24AM: Steven Fletcher to Democratic Reform.

11:27AM: Gary Goodyear to Minister of State for Science and Technology. Goodyear will work closely with Minister of Industry Tony Clement.

11:29AM: Denis Lebel to economic development for Quebec. Lebel will be the cash man for Quebec and this will help him electorally.

11:31AM: Keith Ashfield to ACOA.

11:32AM: Peter Kent to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Americas).

Final cabinet speculation

Mostly certain:
– Prime Minister Stephen Harper
– Flaherty to stay in Finance (confirmed by numerous people in the department)
– Baird moving (confirmed)
– Clement moving
– Guergis moving (family has flown in, and hair appointment booked early AM tomorrow apparently)
– Bernier not in cabinet
– Aglukkaq in cabinet
– Prentice staying in Industry (no indication of a move from bureaucrats or political staffers up until midnight)
– Lunn moving (family has flown in)
– Verner moving
– MacKay stays in defence
– a good number of Secretaries of State named

Responsibly speculative:
– Cannon in foreign affairs (heard this from a high level source on Tuesday night)
– Kenney at CIC
– Nicholson stays in Justice
– Strahl stays at INAC
– Clement in trade
– Baird in transport
– Verner to intergovernmental affairs
– Ambrose to HRSDC
– Shea or Duncan in Fisheries
– Raitt in cabinet
– James Moore promoted

Wildly and so irresponsibly speculative:
– Raitt to get NRCan (doubtful)
– Liberal crosses the floor and enters cabinet (sourced at a high level, but I don’t see it happening. Yet, a number of Liberals staffers have been confirming they’ve heard the same rumour for days)
– Rob Moore in cabinet

Decoding Harper’s Political Strategy on Afghanistan

This article by Campbell Clark of the Globe and Mail describing Defense Minister Peter MacKay’s comments on Afghanistan on CTV’s Question Period this past Sunday, left me a bit unsettled and confused.

OTTAWA — Canada has made it clear to its NATO allies that they cannot count on our troops to fight on the deadly battlefields of southern Afghanistan after February of 2009, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said yesterday.

“The signal that has been sent already is that our current configuration will end in February, 2009,” Mr. MacKay said in an interview on the CTV television program Question Period.

“Obviously the aid work and the diplomatic effort and presence will extend well beyond that. The Afghan compact itself goes until 2011,” he said. “But the way the mission is currently configured, with respect to our presence in Kandahar, there is an expiration date that has been set.”

This is a clear step forward from the Prime Minister’s earlier assertion that a consensus in Parliament would be needed to extend the mission – in it’s current state – past February 2009.

So, what is going on here? Is this what it seems? Is this surrender by the Conservative government on a key conservative principle?

The more I thought about it, the more I started to think about this announcement in a strategic way.

So, here’s my prediction:

Afghanistan is going to be the wedge issue during the next election to take place when the government puts the mission to a vote in Parliament. The vote will fail, the opposition will indicate its majority intention to withdrawal from Kandahar and the government will fall, because Harper will make it a confidence vote.

Why? Numbers.

As it stands, 50% of Canadians support the current mission in Afghanistan while 50% of Canadians do not. Harper needs about 40% of the vote to get a majority government.

MacKay’s announcement on Sunday does a few things. First of all, it indicates an utmost respect for Parliament as the mission and extension will still go to a vote (as indicated in Clark’s article). Secondly, it makes the opposition put down their guns on the Afghanistan issue for a while (continuous shelling of the mission puts it in a weak position in the forum of Canadian opinion). The opposition looks foolish when continuing to whine about the issue when the government has indicated that the mission (in the current parliamentary climate) cannot continue past February 2009. Third, it allows the government to prepare behind the scenes to sell the mission. The governing party has an advantage over the opposition parties in that it has two forums to spread its message, the House and outside of it. By indicating that the government recognizes that it is unlikely to win the Afghanistan mission vote, this disarms the opposition from consistently bringing it up in the House. Meanwhile, the government (the Conservatives) aim to sell it as an issue campaign across the country.

While the government recognizes it is unlikely to win an extension in Afghanistan, the Conservative Party will still maintain the position that an extension is in Canada’s interests and will advance that position up to the vote. There is a bit of a dichotomy here: Minister MacKay concedes the realities of the government’s minority position on the policy, while the politics of Conservatives will continue to lobby for an extension. By playing government minister, MacKay disarms the House (because the House checks the government, not the Conservative Party).

The Afghanistan extension is a perfect wedge issue for Harper. Only the Conservatives and the NDP have a clear position on the issue and only one can form government. The Liberals are bitterly divided on the issue. Ignatieff supports the mission in Afghanistan and Rae has indicated a tough on terror position in the past. Dion’s position is weak, somewhat against but certainly not for the mission. In fact, he has flip-flopped so many times in the past on the issue of Afghanistan. Of course, this plays into the Conservative narrative of weak leadership regarding Dion. Both Ignatieff and Rae are looking to topple Dion after an election, but concerning an extension as far away as 2009, this might be a wide enough window for both Rae and Ignatieff to act sooner rather than later. Harper’s strategy is to both create both a stronger NDP and a Liberal Party bitterly divided.

What other issue creates these winning conditions?

Afghanistan is a perfect issue to rally the conservative base, a reluctant group that has become angry over income trusts and only came out to vote in their champions in the wake of the biggest corruption scandal in Canadian history.

Regarding Quebec, I’m starting to think that the media’s read on Quebec voting intention regarding Afghanistan are overblown. I think that more Quebeckers would get out to vote for the mission than get out and vote against it come election day. Quebec remains a puzzle though despite Harper’s continuous attention to that province.

Speaking of which, Harper has also taken hits among the base for increased spending. Where, however, has this government spent? Childcare cheques, the military and transfer payments (fiscal imbalance) have been the shifted spending priorities of Canada’s New Government. The latter of which should help buffer some of that anti-military sentiment that the Toronto press believes that exists so pervasively in la belle province.

Back to leadership, this issue favours Harper in an electoral footing. Because he has a better control of the timing of an election, he will obviously define a ballot issue that favours his government and personal leadership. Afghanistan is a red meat issue while the environment is assorted mixed greens. Defining the election on Afghanistan favours Harper’s strong grizzle-laden leadership style, while the weaker Dion will be left sitting in vinaigrette. Harper is not going to willingly contrast himself in an election on any other issue. The only thing green that the Conservative Prime Minister hopes to talk about during the election is Dion’s leadership and that Dion “doesn’t have what it takes”, “isn’t a leader” etc.

Conservatives will also ask, “If Dion is a weak leader with an ambiguous stance on Afghanistan, is he ready to be Prime Minister?”

I believe that Conservative strategists are counting on a majority coming from NDP gains (hoping to catch that unambiguous 50% against the mission) and the bottom falling out on the Liberal party on Afghanistan and Dion’s leadership.

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.

Ontario by-elections

Two by-elections are upcoming this fall in Ontario and I’ve got a bit of info on these individuals and the timing of the contest to be called by the Prime Minister.

Maureen Harquail will be taking on Martha Hall Finley from the Liberals in Willowdale and Mark Warner will be appealing for votes in Toronto-Centre as he battles against former Liberal leadership contender and NDP Premier of Ontario Bob Rae.

Harquail has completed reserve duty with the Canadian armed forces and was an environmental prosecutor. She also happens to be the cousin of federal finance minister Jim Flaherty. The cousin connection has already come in handy as the Tories are said to be packing their war-chest for the riding pre-writ by bringing in some highly visible cabinet minsters for fundraisers. Peter MacKay has already been seen in the riding pitching for Harquail, and besides cousin Jim, environmental minister John Baird is also expected to raise some funds for the Tories in Willowdale. Willowdale consists of significant jewish, korean, persian and japanese communities among others. Retiring Liberal MP Jim Peterson won the riding last time for the Grits by 14,000 votes, however, a significant portion of that support rested in Peterson’s popular personality rather than the Liberal Party. Yet, Willowdale should be a challenging riding for the Tories to pick up. At this point, the NDP have yet to forward a candidate and Harquail would only benefit from a strong NDP effort in that riding against the Grits.

Mark Warner will be challenging for Toronto Centre. Warner is a lawyer will some impressive credentials that include lecturing in law and practicing for the OECD internationally. In the riding, Warner will have a bit of work to do as the Tories only secured 18% of the vote in the last election. We may, however, see some split with the “progressive” side of the spectrum with NDP voters showing up to vote against Rae, and a relatively stronger Green presence there. Plus as Warner is running for the incumbent government, this may produce a small boost. Warner was acclaimed February 9th and has already hosted a couple of successful fundraisers including one with justice minister Rob Nicholson and popular Ontario candidate Tim Hudak. Despite the good fundraising start, Warner is still a bit of a long shot in this realist’s opinion.

I’ve heard from a couple of senior Tories that the by-elections will be called after the provincial election. Former Toronto city councillor David Shiner, the provincial challenger in Willowdale is likely to be a bellwether for Harquail’s success in that same riding federally. The Tories may be angling to hold the federal contests after the provincial election in order not to be seen as interfering in provincial politics and to tap into the mood of the electorate after the provincial contest (whether to balance a McGuinty win, or buttress a breakthrough by John Tory)

The Code of the Centre Block Schoolyard

“The Prime Minister should apologize” whines Her Majesty’s Loyal Official Opposition in reaction to Stephen Harper’s latest attack on the sensibilities of the Liberal Party. This week in the House, in reaction to a call from Stephane Dion for the Defense Minister to resign, the Prime Minister retorted,

“I can understand the passion that the leader of the Opposition and members of his party feel for Taliban prisoners. I just wish occasionally they would show the same passion for Canadian soldiers.”

How dare he? Who does he think he is? Liberals are offended!

Of course, this brings up thoughts of the recent incident involving the Prime Minister and his quoting from a recent Kim Bolan article (which was included in Quorum that day, no less) which suggested familial ties between a Liberal MP and the Air India investigation. Outrage from the Liberal benches! How dare he? The Parliamentary Press Gallery went into a tizzy and questioned the Prime Minister’s tactics and found him to be quite rude in his reading.

Of course, baiting the Liberals is turning into a sport for Mr. Harper. The now famous attack ads on Stephane Dion famously put a spotlight on the Opposition Leader’s whine “This is unfair!” to then-opponent and fellow leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff.

The main street Canadian, as PMO strategic whiz Patrick Muttart’s psychographics must show, is not very likely to sympathize with the pain from the verbal bruises that Stephen Harper is handing out to the Liberal benches. Frankly, those of us who live outside of the Parliamentary bubble understand that tattling to the adults (the public and the press, in this case) in the face of Prime Ministerial bullying isn’t likely to earn much respect. In fact, this is a thread on which the press, by sympathizing with Dion, is finding itself out of touch with Canadians. When Peter MacKay allegedly implied that his former girlfriend Belinda Stronach was a dog, the press covered the incident for two weeks and while claiming that the public was being turned off by the degrading decorum in the House, the press felt that the story had enough traction to sell tons of newsprint. We weren’t sold on the outrage; we were tuned in because of the same reason why kids drop what they’re doing and converge whenever they hear the far off words “fight, fight, fight” during recess.

Similarly, when Stephane Dion whines that Stephen Harper is being unfair, he is not appealing to our sense of sympathy, he is unwittingly appealing to our schoolyard instincts. Nobody likes the whiner and his whiny mother in the press gallery who called our parents and the principal (besides, we’re pretty sure that our dad can beat up his dad). Instead, we all like the guy with the snappy comeback.

Too bad for Stephane, he can’t whine and take his ball home. This Parliament is Harper’s and our pal Steve is the king of the court.

LIBERAL DEBRIEF: I figured that this would be necessary. This article does not condone bullying. It is in fact a piece of creative writing that describes the parliamentary arena as if it were a schoolyard full of children. The piece describes the dramatis personae including the bullies, the victims, the other kids, the parents and even the principal. If Harper is the bully and Dion is the victim, we’re the other children and we act as such (like it or not), and we reinforce the model. As parliamentary observers, we tend to reflect the psychology of schoolyard children when it comes to observing Harper being aggressive with Dion. When Dion cries “unfair”, he doesn’t get sympathy from the rest of us.

Schoolyard analogies aside… Dion is all grown up now, and he has a job in federal politics.

UDPATE: The National Post weighs in (3/24):

“This is certainly a pattern,” Mr. Dion told Parliament, referring to the Prime Minister, “where he acts as a bully and I don’t want to follow this way, I don’t want to do that.”

Then don’t follow it, Mr. Dion. Or do. Either way, stop whining like a child whose older brother just got a bigger lollypop. Act like a leader, or at least a grownup politician. Accept that in the cut-and-thrust of political jousting your opponents are going to make allegations against you and your party every bit as outsized as the ones you make against them.