Thursday, October 30, 2008

Canada's Federal Cabinet

Nation, this isn't our first foray into Federal Cabinet analysis, so we'll revisit how this is going to work.

Each cabinet posting is going to be analysed on 2 distinct points. Firstly, pragmatically - can this person do the job they've been assigned? Secondly, politics - will having this person in this position help the Tories win when Jack Layton goads the next Liberal leader into pulling the plug?

And a-waaaaaaaaaaay we go...

Stephen Harper, Prime Minister - big shock there. I was SURE it was going to be MacKay. :) PRAGMATIC: He's shown himself to be an able enough manager so far, however he's steering through uncharted economic waters right now. Much depends on the team he has surrounded himself with - no man, economist or not, can run this entire government while we're at war and on the precipice of a recession. POLITICAL: Canadians are never going to LIKE Harper, and I think the Tories understand that. They're now just asking us to TRUST him... the economy, honouring the Afghanistan withdrawal date, and how he deals with democratic reform (centralizing all power in the PMO isn't the kind of reform Preston Manning was talking about) will be key issues that will make or break Harper's place in history.

Rob Nicholson, Justice - Nicholson retains the Justice portfolio. PRAGMATIC: He can clearly run this department, as he's been doing it for over a year now. POLITICAL: The public perception, right or wrong, is that judges are hamstrung by federal sentencing guidelines. Getting those guidelines changed in a minority parliament full of MP's dead-set against your justice platform, though, is Nicholson's big challenge. Something to consider, though: Most Canadians who bothered to vote (aka "the ones who matter") voted for a party that opposed the Tories vociferously on their justice platform. Nicholson has to tread carefully.

J.P. Blackburn, Revenue - Blackburn moves here from Labour. It's a lateral transfer, with slightly less responsibility. PRAGMATIC: The Minister of Revenue has very little to do with the actual running of their own department, so Blackburn isn't likely able to mess this up too badly. POLITICAL: Blackburn might not have distinguished himself as Minister of Labour, but Harper needs members from Quebec in the cabinet room if he wants to convince Quebecers he's not holding a grudge.

Greg Thompson, Veterans Affairs - Thompson stays put. PRAGMATIC: He's been at this post since Harper's first cabinet. He clearly knows what he's doing. POLITICAL: Thompson is a capable minister from the Maritimes. There's no way he could NOT be in this cabinet.

Marjory LeBreton, Seniors - LeBreton keeps the portfolio that no-one wants. PRAGMATIC: She's been doing the job for over a year, and has the added credibility of actually being a senior herself. No worries here. POLITICAL: The Ontario senator deals with the pressures of this portfolio well, which is really the most that a Prime Minister can hope for from his Seniors minister. LeBreton will also be a "point-person" on Harper's war against the Senate in this term.

Chuck Strahl, Indian Affairs & Northern Development - Seriously, it's 2008, and we still call this ministry "Indian Affairs"? Strahl keeps this posting. PRAGMATIC: Chuck's been at this job for a little over a year, now. He was instrumental in the Residential Schools reckoning. POLITICAL: Strahl was expected by many to take a less active role, due to his health issues. That said, he's a bedrock Reformer and very popular within caucus - not counting Stockwell Day's office. Strahl puts a serious face on the government's policies towards aboriginal peoples - the Tories are not, however, in a position politically to demand accountability from band councils. Cleaning up the reservations, especially relative to crime and water issues, will be Strahl's ongoing challenge.

Peter MacKay, National Defence - MacKay retains his post. PRAGMATIC: He's been the minister of this mercurial portfolio since August of 2007. Ironically, his mother is a peace activist - which isn't to say that MacKay enjoys war (although, rugby isn't exactly all hugs and giggles, either). POLITICAL: MacKay is a steady hand and a familiar face, which is what we need from a war-time Minister of Defence. He'll stay the course, and be a fervent supporter of the 2012 withdrawal date - his political future depends on meeting that deadline, and he knows it.

Stockwell Day, International Trade - This is a move for Day from the Public Safety portfolio, to a less visible but MUCH more important role, with the economic melt-down affecting most of the developed world. PRAGMATIC: Day has never really been tested in this sort of role before. If he uses the same approach he did as Alberta's Treasurer, he'll be fine. If not - well, Stock doesn't make friends very easily. POLITICAL: Day is a middle-aged, white male representing the interior of British Columbia. Keeping him in cabinet appeals to the SoCon base, which is useful if Harper steers the party further towards the centre in an effort to finish off the Liberals. The only way his appointment earns the Tories votes outside of the SoCon bloc is if he does a tremendous job, and the economy doesn't tank.

Vic Toews, President of the Treasury Board - Toews stays put. PRAGMATIC: Toews has done an able job in this position since early 2007, and the fact that he's a dead ringer for Jack Layton seems not to scare the hell out of the government accountants (I know it'd scare the hell out of ME). To the best of my knowledge, both men have been in the same room simultaneously. POLITICAL: Toews provides a Manitoban perspective around the cabinet table, and offers stability in this important position during the economic turmoil. His work on the Wheat Board seems like it's dragging on forever...

Rona Ambrose, Labour - Let "Rona's Rehabilitation" begin. She moves here from Intergovernmental Affairs. PRAGMATIC: This is Ambrose's "sink or swim" moment. She has long been considered a rising star in the party, however her performance as Minister of the Environment was underwhelming. Whether this was due to her, or due to poor policies, is still not universally agreed upon (I tend to believe the latter). If she performs well as Minister of Labour, her stock shoots up. If she doesn't, any hope of a major role in the future is all but dashed. POLITICAL: As a woman under 40, Ambrose gets check-marks for Harper under the "young" and "female" demographics. If she performs well and her stock rises, she'll be crucial in the attempt to win back Edmonton Strathcona (I still giggle every time I think of this - thanks, Dave).

Diane Finley, Human Resources - Finley returns to this portfolio, which she held before moving to Immigration in 2007. PRAGMATIC: She's done the job before, and did a passable job - no reason to doubt she can do it again. POLITICAL: Finley is an Ontario MP and a woman, which will keep some people happy. Perhaps most importantly, this keeps her husband - Harper's right hand, Doug Finley - happy. Like many of the economics-related portfolios, Finley's success (or lack thereof) at this job will go a long way to determining the future prospects not just for her but for Harper and the party as a whole.

Bev Oda, International Co-Operation - Oda holds onto her portfolio. PRAGMATIC: She's been doing the job since August of 2007. The hardest part of the job now might be getting along with Stock Day. POLITICAL: Ontario, senior, woman, visible minority. Jackpot. So long as she does a good job, Oda is a walking, talking rebuttal to 4 of the biggest accusations levelled at Harper in your average water-cooler chat.

Jim Prentice, Environment - Harper's "go-to guy", and arguably his most capable minister, gets the challenge of his political career, moving from Industry in a surprise move. PRAGMATIC: If ANYONE can put enough lipstick on the pig that is the Tory environmental policies, it is Jim Prentice. He's more useful, though, if his role includes MAKING policy, and not just selling the policies he was handed today. POLITICAL: Prentice is a smart man, but he's not exactly "warm and fuzzy", which seems to be what Canadians want in someone talking to them about the environment. The assertion has been that Harper doesn't "care" about the environment - Prentice's challenge, then, is to play to his strengths, and come out with policies, targets, and programs that convince the public otherwise. If Jim can't convince us he and Stephen care, he can still win by showing us he's capable of making meaningful progress on sustainability.

John Baird, Transport and Infrastructure - Baird moves from Environment. PRAGMATIC: Baird wasn't a particularly BAD minister, he was just in a ministry that he couldn't do anything with. In his new role, he'll be cutting cheques for new roads - which the provinces will love - and turning down requests for other funding, which the provinces will hate. I believe he's probably capable. POLITICAL: Baird is still under 40, although serving in Environment is enough to age anyone at least 20 years. He's a young Ontario MP, and Harper has much to thank Ontario for. If Baird drops the ball on this portfolio, though, it's curtains for him. If the economy DOES tank, this ministry will become more important, as public building projects become a way to try to try and perform economic CPR on the country.

Lawrence Cannon, Foreign Affairs - Cannon moves here from Transport and Infrastructure. PRAGMATIC: Cannon is one of the top "Red Tories" in Harper's caucus, and as such he is well suited to be dealing with representatives of foreign nations who don't share the ideological bent of the Conservative Party. He's a royal among Canada's elite, and knows how to talk and act around the "beautiful people". POLITICAL: Cannon is being held to account for the party's poor showing in Quebec. Even so, he's a Quebec minister in a caucus without many Quebec MP's to choose from. He has a chance to put himself back in Harper's good graces with a solid performance, here. If the Tories hope to win in Quebec, they need to put a face other than Harper's on the party in la belle province. It should be Cannon's.

Tony Clement, Industry - Clement comes to Industry from Health. PRAGMATIC: Clement is an able administrator and leader. The biggest question about his new role is, can he work with Jim Flaherty, a bitter rival from the Ontario PC days? Harper clearly thinks so. POLITICAL: Clement was put here because Harper knows he needs someone smart and focused, and Clement is both. He remains a strong voice for Harper in Ontario, and the recent Tory breakthroughs there ensured Tony's continued presence around the cabinet table.

Jim Flaherty, Finance - Flaherty doesn't need to change the letterhead. PRAGMATIC: Flaherty has held this post since early 2006, and we're not running at an annual deficit - YET. POLITICAL: Flaherty is inextricably linked to Clement, as result of their bitter Ontario PC leadership contest. In order to keep Jim in cabinet, you have to keep Tony in cabinet, and vice versa. Changing the minister here would have been a mistake, but Flaherty can't assume that he's been doing a bang-up job, or that nothing is wrong. There's a lot of heavy lifting to come for Jim Flaherty, and the future of Harper's government rests squarely on Flaherty's performance in the months to come.

Josee Verner, Intergovernmental Affairs - Verner moves here from Heritage. PRAGMATIC: The federal minister's job boils down to 2 essential tasks: Listen to the provinces whine, and know when to tell them (respectfully) to shut up. Verner raised 3 kids - she'll do fine. POLITICAL: Verner is rumoured to be Harper's new Quebec lieutenant, as result of the poor showing of the Tories in Quebec. If she performs well in this ministry, and the Tories improve their lot in Quebec, she'll be due for another promotion. As it is, the fact that she's a woman and a Quebecer already serving in cabinet pretty much guaranteed she'd be kept on in some capacity. Her performance in cabinet thus far has warranted the promotion.

Jay Hill, House Leader - Hill moves from Government Whip. PRAGMATIC: Hill takes on an extremely important role in this minority parliament. If and when this government falls, Hill will know about it before anyone else. His role as Whip prepared him for the task. POLITICAL: A rock-ribbed Reformer and strong BC MP, Hill's presence in cabinet will continue to help the Tories in rural British Columbia.

Peter Van Loan, Public Safety - Van Loan moves from House Leader. PRAGMATIC: PVL oversaw and shepherded a minority government for longer than anyone thought possible. If he shows the same ability as Minister of Public Safety, I feel safer already. POLITICAL: An Ontario MP and just 45 years young, Van Loan is upwardly mobile within the party - impressive, considering he was already one of "Harper's 12". He has tended to be more interested in the backrooms of politics than the front rooms, but Van Loan is whispered to be a contender to replace Harper someday. For now, though, he'll continue to be one of Harper's most trusted Ontario lieutenants.

Gerry Ritz, Agriculture - Ritz stays put. PRAGMATIC: Ritz made one of the most bone-headed statements ever, while joking about the Listeria crisis. While he had served as a capable if not outstanding minister up until that point, he lost a lot of public respect with the comments in question. He's going to have to earn that respect back. POLITICAL: Ritz represents a Saskatchewan riding, and will be the party's face in that province. If his poorly-timed joke was a one-off, he'll be fine. If it's just one of a pattern of attempts to be topically funny and instead come off as a complete knucklehead, though, his time in Cabinet won't last as long as he'd like. He's not important enough to Harper to be beyond reproach.

Jason Kenney, Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism - Kenney gets promoted from Sec. State Multiculturalism. PRAGMATIC: Kenney was by most accounts a resounding success in his previous role, and it translated at the ballot box with New Canadians eschewing the traditional voting patterns, and choosing the Tories. This promotion looks good on him, and is in an area he's already familiar with. POLITICAL: Kenney is one of Harper's top attack dogs, and cuts the opposition apart with a lot of panache. While Harper doesn't need Kenney in order to win in suburban Calgary, having the fluently bilingual Kenney make the rounds in Eastern Canada certainly can't hurt. In speaking to a well-placed source within Kenney's riding, it turns out that a large bloc of voters actually supports Kenney because they find him "dreamy". That's right... Jason Kenney, dreamboat. Soak it in.

Christian Paradis, Public Works - Paradis is promoted from Sec. State Agriculture. PRAGMATIC: This is a mighty big portfolio, in a period of economic turmoil, for a junior minister. Whether Paradis is up to the task remains to be seen. POLITICAL: Paradis in a young Quebecer, which makes him completely inexpendable to Harper and the Tories. To win Quebec, they need Paradis to succeed in this position, and take a leading voice among the party's Quebec wing.

Jim Moore, Heritage - Moore moves up from Sec. State Languages. PRAGMATIC: Moore distinguished himself as Harper's point-man on the Cadman affair. Whether a young, white Anglo from British Columbia can be SOLD as a good Heritage Minister is in doubt, but he should do at least a passable job. POLITICAL: Moore is a rising star in the party, and this posting could be a gateway to bigger things for him. He needs to be careful, though, as his performance will very much affect the party's fortunes in Quebec.

Leona Aglukkaq, Health - Newly-elected Aglukkaq enters the House for the first time as a front-bench minister. PRAGMATIC: She has been the health minister for Nunavut. I imagine, though, the job might be a little bit more involved on a federal level. She may be fine - then again, she may be a nightmare. Jury's out. POLITICAL: This young woman is the first Cabinet member of Inuit descent in Canada's history. She's got all kinds of upside, and her election was a direct result of the attention that the Harper Tories paid to Nunavut in their first term. That said, the most that her elevation is likely to achieve is to maybe, MAYBE help them with the other 2 seats in the North. It is as a young person and as a woman, rather than as an Inuit or Northerner, that Aglukkaq can make the furthest in-roads for the party.

Lisa Raitt, Natural Resources - Lisa the Garth Turner Slayer enters cabinet fresh off her electoral victory. PRAGMATIC: Raitt has a background in environmental science, and a reputation as an able administrator. This is a big portfolio, but she SHOULD be able to handle it. POLITICAL: Raitt knocked off Turner, but her own political life is not without controversy. She'll need to make sure she walks the straight-and-narrow. She's a valuable "in" for the Tories with the suburban "soccer-mom" set.

Gail Shea, Fisheries and Oceans - Shea goes straight from "provincial politician" to "federal minister". PRAGMATIC: Shea served 5 years as PEI's minister of transportation and public works, and by all accounts did a good job. The challenging part of this job isn't the "fisheries" file, it's the "oceans" responsibility - the long-standing international dispute about mineral and maritime rights and borders isn't something that can wait forever. POLITICAL: The first Tory to be sent to Ottawa from PEI in 24 years, Shea was a shoo-in for the cabinet. Her performance here can help the Tories immeasurably on the East Coast.

Ministers of State tomorrow... ouch, my fingers...

No comments: