It was a move during the latest swearing-in of cabinet that made a few observers scratch their heads: an Associate Minister of Defence was named to cabinet, one Julian Fantino. The name of the cabinet post drew some confusion at first but then Ottawa started asking the big picture questions along with the small question of who was up and who was down.
Was this a demotion for Peter MacKay and a promotion for Julian Fantino? Ontario’s former top cop got a promotion from Seniors but splitting up Peter MacKay’s portfolio surely meant demotion, right?
While some observers have noted that MacKay is perhaps too fraternal with the Canadian Forces suggesting he was biased in his role and duty to their oversight from cabinet, word from senior government insiders is that any such concern is small and lacking much significance as they say that the Prime Minister continues to have confidence in his Minister of Defence.
Fantino’s new job quickly became known in the shorthand among Ottawa observers as the “Minister of Procurement”. But why was procurement taken off of the plate of Peter MacKay? A recently published Conference Board of Canada report notes that if the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy is anchored in Halifax’s Irving shipyards rather than on the West Coast, this would mean over 11,000 jobs for the region. If MacKay oversaw a windfall for the BC shipbuilding industry it would hurt tremendously at home. On the contrary, if he was personally responsible for the same for Halifax, that would be the very example of a conflict of interest. Further, while there is absolutely nothing to suggest anything untoward in the present context, the MacKays have previously had bad luck in association with military procurements on the East Coast.
Cabinets are built upon geography among other incidental characteristics. Landlocked Julian Fantino removes some of the political disaster potential for Peter MacKay. As MacKay has been a solid workhorse and star minister in Stephen Harper’s cabinet, the appointment of Fantino was proactively defensive.