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.
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.
In addition to Don Martin’s story in the National Post today, I’ve learned a few more details about the Edmonton Expo story:
The government’s top-line message on this has been one of fiscal restraint. This theme was starting to make rounds online last night and has been echoed by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in Toronto today.
Shifting security costs were a main concern about the Expo bid. For example, original estimates of Olympic security had been about $175 million and rounded out to about $800 million when all was said and done. Organizers of the Edmonton Expo have projected security costs at $85 million, a figure which the Public Safety minister has dismissed as very conservative for a 90 day event. Actual security costs are projected closer to $1 Billion.
Alberta itself is in deficit and Alberta Finance minister Ted Morton released a provincial fiscal update describing a province in the red, projecting a deficit of $5 billion by year end.
The 2010 Shanghai World Expo had major cost overruns. Originally estimated to be $4 Billion, the cost ballooned to about $80 billion by some reports. Further, there is little evidence that a “world expo” does enough to promote the host country outside of its own borders. Olympic Games, however, are seen to be a major international success by most outside observers.
Don Martin has suggested that the nixing of the Edmonton Expo bid has also scuttled government funding for a Quebec arena. I’ve learned from sources in the PMO that this isn’t necessarily true. The government contends that funding for professional sports facilities remains the responsibility of the private sector. If any funding is to be granted it must be fair and evenly spread across the country. However, the government emphasizes that Canada is in a period of fiscal restraint.
A hallmark of Michael Ignatieff so far as Liberal leader, both actual and interim, has been his penchant to transactional politics; he has so far picked his battles on small and short term policy differences rather that outlining a long-term plan. At the Liberal convention which concluded yesterday in Vancouver, Ignatieff did not spell out his demands, policy outlook or election warnings to the government in his convention speech, he felt that such minor details would be more appropriate for a press conference proceeding the event. Despite his insistence that he will be a transformative visionary leader that is looking forward to shaping Canada over the next eight years through 2017, it is not too credible when Ignatieff’s Canadian hindsight only extends back just five. The latest election threat (but not necessarily an election) is his insistence that the Prime Minister look at EI reform to temporarily extend benefits to workers who have worked 360 hours and to harmonize standards for EI benefits across jurisdictions.
The history of EI in this country has been quite tumultuous for parties that have manipulated it, back to RB Bennett who proposed it, to Trudeau who vastly expanded it to Mulroney and Chretien who subsequently slashed it to Martin who allowed EI surpluses to balloon under his watch. Ironically, it was Chretien in 1995 that changed the standards of EI payments to reflect local unemployment rates breaking down benefits by region. Though all of Canadians pay into EI, the benefits distributed are dependent upon local employment rates. Thus, EI is sort of like equalization but for jobs.
“It seems unfair to Canadians that if you pay into the thing, your eligibility depends on where you live. We think 360 (hours) is roughly where we ought to be.” — Michael Ignatieff
Now Mr. Ignatieff is proposing that we do away with regional differences and temporarily make EI more generous. An election threat from Ignatieff does not ring in the ears of the Prime Minister today after the Liberal leader put the screws to the Liberal senate to pass the Conservative budget just months ago — a budget, which among other things, included a global five-week extension of EI benefits despite region.
What Mr. Ignatieff may instead be attempting is to wrestle an easy “concession” from the Conservative government in order to show that he intends on making Parliament work while boasting that he will decide the timing of its dissolution. EI may indeed be an important policy issue for the Liberal leader to champion as for deregionalizing the program would be beneficial for Ontario, a province that disproportionately pays into it for the benefits received. As Ignatieff is looking to regain Ontario seats lost under the wayward leadership of Stephane Dion, the new Liberal leader may figure that he can shore up his Ontario base and challenge Stephen Harper where the Conservative Prime Minister needs to grow.
Yet today, a spoiler appeared on the scene. Ontario PC leadership candidate Christine Elliott and wife of federal finance minister Jim Flaherty also declared that the EI program was ineffective and unfair for Ontario. Elliott proposed reforming the program to benefit a fairer proportion of out-of-work Ontarians considering the number of the province’s residents pay into it. If EI cannot be reformed, Elliott suggests, Ontario should opt-out of the program. Does this signal a tag-team effort by federal and provincial Conservative forces to deflate Ignatieff’s election threat? Christine Elliott may be serving as a safety valve to deflate Ignatieff by suggesting that a friendly to the Conservative government is advocating a similar position. If a June election is contingent upon EI reform for Ontario, Elliott may be providing the Conservatives cover should they move forward with reform and it would have the added benefit of splitting credit from Ignatieff.