Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Federal Cabinet Shuffle - Analysis

Well, at first blush, it seems like the Harper Government has addressed its most pressing needs. Those needs, of course, are to a) appear to be moving forward, rather than stalled; and b) to move ministers in problem portfolios to new digs, and move in what they hope to be problem-solvers.

For the most part, this is a shuffle in the truest sense of the word: same cards in different places. But let's break down the moves:

Peter McKay - Minister of National Defence
McKay did a good job at Foreign Affairs, although he seemed to be at times conflicted about his role as a diplomat and how it contrasted with his image as a politician who gave straight answers. McKay should do fine in his new position, as long as he remembers that he speaks for Canada's civilians, who (for the most part) don't know what the hell they're talking about vis-a-vis the military.

Gordon O'Connor - Minister of Revenue
O'Connor needed out of Defence, about 4 months ago. He's still in cabinet, but in a vastly reduced role. So long as the government keeps collecting taxes, Gordon shouldn't be able to mess this up too badly. He was in over his head and had trouble communicating with the public about our mission in Afghanistan. Revenue has few such pot-holes - nobody expects to be able to understand the tax code anyhow.

Bev Oda - Minister of International Co-operation
Oda was a capable minister, but was absolutely hamstrung in Heritage by her lack of French. She should be able to shine in this new role.

Josee Verner - Minister of Canadian Heritage
As a Francophone, Verner has an advantage over Oda in the role. It will be interesting to see, given her staunch conservative views, how Minister Verner deals with the arts community given their general liberal bias.

Jim Prentice - Minister of Industry
Prentice will be the first Albertan to hold this post. Expect little benefit from this fact to come to Alberta, though, as Ontario and Quebec will be watching Prentice very closely in his role in a traditional "Old Canada" cabinet post. Prentice is an extremely capable minister and smart politician - the only thing that limits his mobility in a Harper cabinet is geography - there is little room for 2 high-ranking Calgarians in the top 5 government spots, and Harper's unlikely to move any time soon.

Maxime Bernier - Minister of Foreign Affairs
A rising star from the Quebec Caucus, Bernier will be given a chance to spread his wings in this very visible role. His ability to play with others will be the determining factor as to whether this is a stop on the way to greater things or, like with so many others, a one-way ticket to nowhere.

Gerry Ritz - Minister of Agriculture
The Saskatchewan MP inherits the Wheat Board mess from Chuck Strahl. Sitting in a minority situation, the Harper Tories have had to be very, VERY careful about being seen to be favouring the West and, as a result, have perhaps over-compensated, and ignored the West's needs in favour of the East. Westerners have grumbled, but, with no other option, most of that grumbling will result in Tories winning Western ridings by only 55%, instead of 60%. Knowing this, one would have to assume that Stephen Harper spoke at great length with Ritz about what was needed to do the job effectively, and Harper must have confidence in Ritz to deal with the issue. Whether this confidence is misplaced or not, only time will tell.

Chuck Strahl - Minister of Indian Affairs
Very popular on both sides of the floor, Strahl will find the Indian Affairs portfolio a welcome change. With the great work that Prentice did on this file, he will be a tough act to follow, but if Strahl can just keep the political heat on the bureaucrats to get the various deals done, he'll be fine here.

Diane Ablonczy - Sec. State for Tourism & Small Business
Ablonczy is the only new face in this cabinet, as a junior minister. A victim of geography until now, she will be given a chance to grow in this position. Unfortunately, she will have to distinguish herself as a shooting star to get ahead, as a Calgary MP in the same cabinet as Jim Prentice, Jason Kenney, and Stephen Harper.

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