High-profile switches expected in cabinet shuffle

PM issuing new to-do list for the fall that will address vulnerabilities in handling of Afghan mission

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper will refresh the top tier of his cabinet Tuesday by moving some of his most high-profile cabinet ministers, including an expected move of Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay to the sensitive Defence portfolio.

Maxime Bernier, a rising Quebec presence in the government is expected to move to Foreign Affairs, while sources said Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice will head to Industry.

The Prime Minister is issuing a new to-do list for the fall, handing out new mandate letters to each member of his cabinet. The changes will address vulnerabilities in the handling of the Afghanistan mission and emphasize economic productivity.Mr. Harper met individually Monday and on the weekend with the majority of his cabinet ministers at his official residence, 24 Sussex Dr., where he handed out the new assignments. He had also been scheduled to meet with Mr. MacKay and Mr. Prentice on the weekend.

Sources said the cabinet shuffle will be a substantial revamp that is expected to include at least nine ministers. Mr. Prentice, a trusted lieutenant to Mr. Harper, is expected to become the Industry minister, taking the portfolio to be vacated by Mr. Bernier.

Sources also said that Mr. Bernier and his staff have been plumping for the Foreign Affairs job.

Mr. Bernier has earned the trust of the Prime Minister as a skilled communicator, acting as the main French-language spokesman when the government released its budget. He also had a key role in outlining the new softwood lumber agreement with the United States, and helped launch new Conservative attack ads against the Liberals.

It was still unclear Monday night what Mr. Harper would do with current Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, who has had a difficult time in the portfolio. Insiders predicted Monday night he will be moved.

Mr. MacKay would be a convenient fit in the role for a number of reasons. He, too, is seen as a good communicator in a portfolio where Mr. O'Connor has been accident-prone in handling issues such as the alleged torture of Afghan detainees.

Mr. MacKay is also the minister for Atlantic Canada, home to a large chunk of the Armed Forces. The region has become difficult for the Tories in the wake of accusations that they have broken their pledges for enriching the equalization system.

Some sources said Mr. Harper has left himself some room as late as Tuesday morning to make adjustments to the revamp. The swearing-in doesn't take place until late Tuesday afternoon.

Other ministers rumoured for transfer include Heritage's Bev Oda and Josée Verner, the Minister for International Co-operation. Sources said Ms. Verner is expected to take the Heritage portfolio.

University of Calgary professor David Bercuson, the director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, said the government needs to develop a clearer message for the Canadian role in Afghanistan – and make sure the Prime Minister and all his ministers are communicating aspects of the same theme.

He said there has been an appearance of government figures heading in different directions, and that has to change. “You're running a war here. People are being killed,” he said.

Mr. Bercuson said it now appears a new defence minister is needed to communicate Canada's role in Afghanistan to the public, and also to draw a clear line about civilian command, because apparent divisions between Mr. O'Connor and the Chief of Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier, may have blurred the lines for the military.

The redesign of the cabinet team will be Mr. Harper's second substantial cabinet shuffle this year in preparation for what may be a longer tenure than many expected for his minority government.

The makeover is intended to prepare the Conservative government to take the political initiative after a spring session on the defensive, and during which their electoral platform appeared to lose steam.

Sources said the Prime Minister's Office will hand out new so-called mandate letters that will outline a series of tasks the ministers will be expected accomplish. The letters are important because they indicate the government is looking toward a Throne Speech in the fall sitting, where it will outline its new priorities.

Typically, such letters are handed out at the beginning of a government's term and before a Throne Speech.

But another expert said Mr. Harper doesn't need to make wholesale changes, because to do so would signal to the public that he is unhappy with the government's performance. The Prime Minister has already shuffled his cabinet once.

“I'm not expecting big or dramatic moves,” said Roger Gibbins of the Calgary-based Canada West Foundation.

Mr. Gibbins did say the Prime Minister needs an A-level minister in the unpredictable Defence portfolio. He added that the best way for the government to demonstrate a new agenda would be in a set of new priorities in the fall.


Our commentary in the Globe and Mail

Ottawa Mens Centre.com, from Ottawa, Canada wrote: Mr. Harper's TO-DO List should include a legal presumption of equal parenting after separation. Currently Canada has a negative population growth which deters most men from having more than or two children and most importantly prevents or deters men from having subsequent children in subsequent marriages. A legal presumption of equal parenting will save Canada billions of dollars in legal fees that could otherwise be spent on children's education rather than funding lawyers retirement funds.

Number 2 on his To-Do list should be the introduction of property rights for common-law spouses. The lack of such legislation encourages spousal abuse.

Number 3 on Mr. Harper's To-Do list is to bring in psychological screening for judges. Currently the number one requirement to be a judge is political connections and the ability to play survivor that generally attracts those personalities who will abuse power once given absolute power for the agenda's favoured by their political sponsors.

Number 4 on Mr. Harper's To-Do list is reform of the Federal Child Support guidelines that at present have ZERO consideration towards the cost of parenting by non-custodial parents who are treated like unwilling sperm donors. All too frequently a custodial parent ears a higher net income while the non-custodial parent has identical accommodation costs with a much lower net income. The difference of incomes and the costs of parenting for non-custodial parents is presently not considered. It actively deters and or economically prevents non-custodial parents from remarrying. The effect is a slow destruction of Canadian society caused primarily by a negative population growth that poses more economic danger to the future of Canada than any other single cause. http://www.OttawaMensCentre.com 613-797-3237