Cabinet shuffle and senate appointments

Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed his cabinet yesterday, and to the surprise of many, three Senators to the Upper Chamber were named just seconds after his press conference concluded at Rideau Hall.

What can be said that hasn’t already been said? Cabinet is too big and government spending needs to come down. Tony Clement’s appointment in Treasury Board is a good one; he’s been the PM’s hatchet man for a while and if the PM is serious about cuts, Clement will get it done. I’ve heard that strategic review may extend beyond 5% per department to eliminate the deficit earlier. Hopefully, this talk about the Tories balking on this promise from the campaign is just the classic lowering of expectations before over-delivering gambit that we usually see every budget.

Leona Aglukkaq’s appointment as Health minister shows that as serious health reforms come due in the next two years, the PM will likely quarterback many of these decisions from Langevin block.

John Baird’s appointment as Minister of the Lester B. Pearson building on Sussex means that some good Conservative changes to that institution are coming.

Maxime Bernier’s reappointment to cabinet in Small Business and Tourism is particularly encouraging. If Bernier delivers some proactive wins in that department, he should see himself moved up to full minister soon.

The Senate appointments of three losing candidates is disappointing. Apparently Josee Verner, Larry Smith and Fabian Manning all support Senate reform but it’s high time we see some real action and wins on this front. I think the PM may be building popular support against the Senate in its present form, a sort of reverse psychology on the electorate. Making real reforms to the Other Place will require the momentum from a critical mass of Canadians. When the PM proposes legislation, the NDP will look quite foolish if they oppose it. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall criticized yesterday’s appointments and called them cynical, but it will require the will of Wall and his colleagues to have Senate nominee elections. One terrible hold-out has been Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach who fears the rise of Wild Rose partisan Senate nominees elected from that province.

As a communications strategy, the move was debated either as good or as bad. Those that argued it bad suggested that the PM big-footed the positive news of cabinet with the Senate story. I’d argue that the move was going to draw much criticism so pairing it with the cabinet appointments allowed the good story to jump on the grenade of the bad.