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?

Thomas Mulcair’s NDP

Seven Months, 131,000 members, 69,000 votes, 4 ballots, Thomas Mulcair: 57%. This past weekend in Toronto, the federal New Democrats elected the next leader of their party and Her Majesty’s Leader of the Loyal Opposition. Riding the so-called Orange Wave to an unprecedented 103 seats in the 41st General Election, NDP spirits were buoyed at convention despite the purpose of their task, to replace the much-beloved Jack Layton, who passed away last year.

For all of the hype and hope, the convention was marred by low voter turnout. Out of 131,000+ members, only 69,000 of them voted and many of those votes were aggravated over the course of the day of voting as voting systems jammed. For comparison’s sake, in 2004, 67,000 votes were cast for Stephen Harper’s leadership among Conservatives on the first ballot. As press gallery reporters look to flat-tires on campaign buses as metaphors for electoral viability, the voting issues did not help Canadians see confidence in the NDP.

In the end, NDP members chose Thomas Mulcair, however, today the party is divided. Mulcair’s chief rival, Brian Topp, was the pick of many Layton loyalists, organized labour and the old-guard of the party. Indeed, Ed Broadbent’s characterization of Mulcair during the leadership race has caused division among the ranks.

Thomas Mulcair was seen as a darkhorse candidate from Quebec. His bio describes him as a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister, and reports have linked his interests to Conservative Party candidacy, Mulcair can be described as a political chameleon. Many will doubt his sincerity as a leader of social democrats. Maclean’s magazine recently opined that he is more accurately described as a Liberal that would rather defend the status quo than agitate for social change. His supporters weren’t the dyed-in-the-wool NDP partisans, but more so they were those attracted to the spectacle of politics.

Will Thomas Mulcair lead the NDP to greater electoral fortunes? In 2003, the conservative family was split between two major parties: the Progressive Conservatives under Peter MacKay and the Canadian Alliance under Stephen Harper. Mulcair may see a path to victory by building a formal coalition of sorts between the Liberal Party and the NDP. With mergers and cooperation, Stephen Harper was the ideologue, while the PC party the centrists. If polarization of the electorate is to serve the NDP, the formula may not be correct as Mulcair is leading as a non-ideological centrist perhaps looking to broker an arrangement with a weaker centrist party.

Politically who benefits and loses from a Mulcair victory?

Mulcair’s appeal to a certain part of the NDP’s traditional base may be shaky. Mulcair is seen more of a patrician than a man-of-the-people. Critics have called him cold and arrogant. To connect with blue-collar (Joe and Jane Lunch-bucket) types, the French-cuff-shirted image Mulcair carries may benefit the Conservatives. Mulcair risks losing touch with the type of middle-class clock-punching Sun-reading populists.

Geographically, the Mulcair NDP will be very competitive in Quebec further retrenching the traditional positions of the Liberal Party and the Bloc. The last bastions of strong Liberal support are Montreal and Toronto. Mulcair’s riding is in downtown Montreal. Westerners will perceive an urban elitist Quebecker lecturing their region on energy policy and the oilsands. Mulcair was a former resource minister in Charest’s cabinet who allegedly resigned on environmental principles. Pipeline politics is not only a major factor in the American Presidential election cycle, but here too in Canada. The Northern Gateway pipeline is a major sticking point in BC and Alberta. Mulcair’s leadership will fix the geographic and issue focal point too far East and too far disconnected for Western sentiment. Where the NDP is competitive therefore, is not where the Conservatives are competitive. Under Mulcair’s leadership, the NDP is competitive where they find the Liberals as their chief rival.

The NDP and the Conservatives see common goal in the elimination of the Liberal Party. Mulcair can help achieve this by showing impressive opposition to Stephen Harper’s government in a majority leaving the over-covered Liberal Party with less airtime. He can also start appealing to common left-leaning principles to make them the brand of the NDP. Viable electability for the NDP will not just come through recasting the Conservative scandal-of-the-week to the Ottawa press (a strategy that failed Ignatieff) but voters will be attracted to specific hallmark policies that the NDP now must craft for more than 25% of the electorate (and haphazard Quebec voters). Mulcair must avoid the elitist label and speak on pocketbook issues in order to protect NDP gains.

Winning with only 57% of the vote on the final ballot and with a bellicose Topp holding on to the bitter end just to oppose a Mulcair leadership, the victor has fences to mend in his party. Though a new party leader has the prerogative of filling his office with his own loyalists, he’ll have to handle the inevitable departure of senior figures with as much grace as possible. Mulcair also faces the possibility of losing the labour segment of the NDP base. Though CUPE eventually endorsed the new NDP leader, most of the other unions supported Topp (some were for Nash then Topp). The Liberal strategy moving forward should be to capture disgruntled union stakeholders and bring them into Liberal decision making processes. The CAW famously left Layton for Martin during the 2004 election and a former socialist premier of Ontario might be the one to bring them back into the smaller red tent.

The Conservative strategy on Mulcair will be to encourage those that dislike Harper to fall into Mulcair’s camp at the expense of the Liberals because the Harper Tories still see the Liberals as their chief rivals. As for the votes the Conservatives can get, their main message will be jobs and the economy and tht theirs is the only party that is focusing on the same while the other parties focus on special interests and themselves.