Time to clean the cabinet

After coming close but not quite reaching majority government status in a hard fought campaign, Stephen Harper has taken the formation of a new Parliament as an occasion to reorganize his cabinet. Although Harper claims he wanted to maintain stability by changing little, aside from a few main portfolios, everything has changed.


With a brand new group of accomplished female Members of Parliament and a more provincially diverse caucus, Harper is in a much better position to appoint a more representative cabinet. It seems that he has not only accomplished that, but also has taken some risks in hope of expanding his support base.


There are signs that the Prime Minister is finally getting the message on the environment. He has placed Jim Prentice, a Calgary local often considered the best administrator in cabinet, to the environment portfolio. With Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama winning the American election Tuesday, Harper knows that he must try to find common ground between the ever-charismatic Democrat and himself. It just so happens that both Obama and Harper agree on a carbon-trading scheme. Prentice might be the perfect person to try and mediate environmental policies between the two countries.


The Conservatives made no progress in Quebec in October’s election. As a result, when Harper announced Lawrence Cannon, former regional minister of Quebec, as the new Foreign Affairs minister, many were quite surprised. Intuitively, the PM should have left all his strong Quebec ministers in the province to try and kick-start Conservative momentum. Foreign affairs is a taxing portfolio requiring much travel and an odd choice for a major Quebec Conservative.


The new Minister of Health has caused great fanfare. First time MP Leona Aglukkaq from Nunavut has been given the honour to lead this prestigious department. Although it is unconventional for a first time MP to receive such a crucial role, Aglukkaq is perfect in many ways. She is aboriginal and possesses a sincere and deep understanding of First Nation health problems. Furthermore, Aglukkaq was Nunavut’s former Minister of Health. As such, she has demonstrated a deep understanding of the topic. She may turn out to be a real star for the Conservatives.


Then there is Jim Flaherty, amazingly still standing as Minister of Finance. Bickering between Flaherty and Ontario hurt the Conservatives, possibly costing them a few seats. Harper probably wanted to place him into another job, but in light of the difficult economic times, it would be extremely bad timing to do such a thing. Luckily for Flaherty, he gets another chance.


For the first time in years, a Conservative candidate, Gail Shea, was elected in P.E.I. Shea will take on the appropriate role as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. Shea is a former minster in the P.E.I. Progressive Conservative government, a woman with experience and strongly supported within her community. This seems to be a safe choice for Harper.


After Gerry Ritz was caught making off-colour jokes about the tragic listeriosis crisis, almost everyone thought Ritz would be given the boot. Demonstrating Harper’s vigour, perhaps intransigence, he reappointed him as Minister of Agriculture. Even to insiders, this came as shocking news.


Finally, there is evidence that Harper wants a better working atmosphere in Parliament. He has appointed the dependable Jay Hill as Leader of the Government. This position requires someone who can work across party lines with other House Leaders to get legislation through. After performing extremely well as House Leader of the opposition during the Paul Martin minority government, Hill has proven to be a hard working parliamentarian with the ability to co-operate and work with others. This should give the government a big boost when negotiating with the other parties.


Thanks to the diversity of the newly elected Conservative caucus, the Prime Minister has been given a lot to work with. Let’s hope that this next Parliament is much more productive than the last.

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