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
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
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
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.