Some continuity, considerable change likely in new Cabinet

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National Post online, Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cabinet shuffles after the re-election of a government are generally about two things -- continuity and change.

For continuity, please welcome back The Two Jims, Flaherty and Prentice, to their current portfolios of Finance and Industry, in the second Harper government that will take office this morning. As well, say hello to Peter MacKay, staying on at Defence, a portfolio he loves, which has huge importance to the Maritimes, where he is the regional warlord, which is the best argument for him to control the cash at the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA). Stockwell Day was rumoured headed to International Trade, but his firm line on human rights in China could be a problem there, and he has performed solidly in Public Security, where border issues will be the top file with the new U.S. administration in Washington.

There was hardly any prospect of Flaherty and Prentice being shuffled out of their current roles, not in the middle of the global economic storm. Flaherty performed well in the dying days of the campaign, when the Conservative war room finally put him on the ice as the Prime Ministerís winger. Heís a known player among his G7 and G20 colleagues, at a time when strong interpersonal relations will enhance a coordinated global response. And the new governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, previously worked for Flaherty as associate deputy minister at Finance. As for Prentice, he has his arms fully around Industry at a time when recession warning lights are flashing throughout the manufacturing sector, a portfolio that fits neatly with his dual role as chair of the Cabinet Operations Committee, effectively making him chief operating officer to Harper as a chief executive officer of the government.

As for change, it is the PMís game of risk and reward, starting with Lawrence Cannon, who is almost certain to be moving from Transport to Foreign Affairs, a job that comes with a government Challenger, requiring him to relinquish his role as Quebec lieutenant, probably to Christian Paradis, who is expected to remain at Public Works. Josee Verner is definitely moving from Heritage, where she got pounded on the cultural cuts, to Intergovernmental Affairs, where she will have only one client, the Prime Minister. Jacques Gourd, the Conservative Partyís best riding level organizer in Quebec, may well be tapped as junior agriculture minister. And in the Quebec cabinet contingent, that would make a standstill number of five, assuming Jean-Pierre Blackburn remains at Labour, though he could well be moved off the firing line as regional economic development minister. Maxime Bernier? As of yesterday, he still hadnít been called.

So, then, who moves into these vacated roles, from others, who moves up from the back bench, and who moves in from the freshman class, especially among some promising first term women MPs among 23 females members of the Conservative caucus?

One strong possibility is John Baird moving to Transport from Environment. Thereís billions of dollars of infrastructure money backed up in the Transport system, and Baird has a record, at Environment and Treasury Board, of pushing the bureaucracy to get what the government wants. That could open the door for Peter Van Loan at Environment, again creating a vacancy for Jay Hill to move up to House Leader from Government Whip.

Rona Ambrose is said to be headed from Intergovernmental Affairs to Human Resources. James Moore is the leading candidate to become Heritage minister, and he might be able to take the Vancouver Olympics file with him. Tony Clements name is very much in the mix for International Trade, which would mean a move from Health, where Diane Ablonczy would be a rock solid choice. Jason Kenney is strongly rumoured to be moving to Immigration from his junior role as minister of multicultural communities, where the Conservatives improved their standing in the election.

Women? There were only seven women in the previous Conservative government of 32 ministers and secretaries of state, but they could comprise one-third of the members of the new ministry, say, 11 out of 33. Assuming all seven holdovers stay on (Marjory LeBreton, Bev Oda, Helena Guergis, Diane Finley, Verner, Ablonczy, and Ambrose), thereís plenty of room for Harper to promote others.

Gail Shea from Prince Edward Island is considered a lock for Fisheries. Leona Aglukkaq from Nunavut is expected to become the first Inuit minister for Northern Affairs, which will be split off from Indian Affairs. In the Toronto area, Lisa Raitt is a cinch, perhaps for a junior role at Transport, reflecting her experience as head of the Toronto Port Authority. In Manitoba, Shelley Glover is definitely one to watch -- police spokesperson, fully bilingual Metis, who would be quite a Cabinet addition in the party that hanged Louis Riel. In Saskatchewan, thereís Lynne Yelich, a solid backbencher who could be tapped at National Revenue, replacing Gordon OíConnor who is expected to step down from Cabinet, but could remain as government whip. Gerry Ritz, of newsroom humour fame, could be gone from agriculture (Albertaís Ted Menzies was one name in that mix yesterday), and Vic Teows might be out at Treasury Board.

But until the cars roll up the driveway at Rideau Hall this morning, only the Prime Minister has all the pieces of the puzzle.

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