The NDP is now one seat from holding the outright balance of power in the new Parliament. When David Emerson crossed the floor to join the Conservative cabinet as Minister of International Trade, the Conservative seat total increased by one to 125. That number, plus 29 New Democrats, adds up to 154 or one-half of the total number of 308 seats.
The new cabinet is designed to fight the next election, not pass legislation. Left without representation in Canada’s three major cities, Stephen Harper acted swiftly to fill the holes in Montreal (with a Senator-to-be) and Vancouver (with Emerson, the outgoing Liberal Minister).
The Emerson defection brings to mind the old CCF ditty: “Take those two old parties mister, not much difference I can see.
The NDP could always reach back to the Western populist idea of recall, and initiate a petition in Vancouver-Kingsway calling on Emerson first to resign, and second to contest the seat — as a Conservative — that he won as a Liberal. Recall was Reform Party policy, supported by Stephen Harper as a Reform policy advisor and MP. Since defeated NDP candidate Ian Waddell would likely win the riding in a by-election, do not expect the Conservatives to pick up the challenge.
The new Montreal minister confirms the Conservatives’ intent to be a player in Quebec politics in order to win the next election. Michael Fortier was a leading Conservative electoral organizer. Reaching outside his Parliamentary caucus to betray his long-standing opposition to appointed senators shows just how serious Harper is about replacing the Liberals as the party of choice in Quebec. He has to deal with the unhappiness this will create in the heartland of the old Reform party.
The new Minister of the Environment — Rona Ambrose — is from Alberta and worked as an advisor to the Ralph Klein government, which opposed the Kyoto accord. Call this anti-environment appointment “looking after the people at home.”
The Minister of Defence — Gordon O’Connor — was a lobbyist for the arms industry prior to being elected. At least he has not been given responsibility for ethics in government.
The slim Harper cabinet, 26 ministers, no Deputy Prime Minister, no junior ministers, no super ministers of state, has a familiar structure going back to the Trudeau era. There are two main cabinet committees: Planning and Priorities (P& P) chaired by the Prime Minister; and Operations. P&P, the key committee has one woman member only, Marjorie LeBreton, who is the new leader of the government of the Senate.
While 12 ministers speak both official languages, the Minister of Canadian Heritage speaks one.Three bilingual young Conservatives from the West — James Moore, Jason Kenny and Rahim Jaffer — were overlooked for the 26 seats, and the tradition of naming a Francophone from outside Quebec was not respected.
The main criterion for inclusion was prior cabinet experience in government. The government house leader (Rob Nicholson) is the only cabinet member to have served before in a Conservative Federal cabinet, albeit only briefly under Kim Campbell.
The Justice Minister (Vic Toews) served in the Manitoba cabinet. Mike Harris era ministers from Ontario got front bench seats in the federal equivalent of their old provincial portfolios: Finance (Jim Flaherty) and Health (Tony Clement). Somebody must have thought they deserved a second chance at winning public support.
Business leaders wanted International Trade and Foreign Affairs to be re-united in the same ministry, and that was done. Peter MacKay gets his reward for going back on his public commitment not to merge the Progressive Conservatives with the Canadian Alliance led by Stephen Harper, and becomes the new minister.
Working behind the scenes as the head of the transition team was Derek Burney, once the chief-of-staff to Brian Mulroney. He advised the Prime Minister to stress focus and discipline in his new role, the same qualities that served him well in the election campaign.
This cabinet is designed to accumulate the political support necessary to win a majority in the next election. The Liberal message was that the onus would be on the Bloc and the NDP to decide on how long the minority government would last. They, the Liberals, were the official opposition, and they intended to oppose.
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