Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A New, Smaller Cabinet

"One of them wasn't elected, one of them switched sides."

Thus did Wendy Mesley describe the new cabinet of Stephen Harper.

Mesley asked the CBC's Chief Political Correspondent, Keith Boag, if he was surprised. He replied, "Yes, and shocked." Then he laughed. All of the punditry was pointless in the bright light of reality.

Harper pulled the rug out from under the nation and surprised everyone. At work, a colleague informed me that strange things were afoot. Little did I know.

On January 23rd, Canadians voted for change — and today, I am pleased to present the team that will lead that change.

David Emerson, spent little time out of cabinet. I don't know if cabinet ministers need to resign when the government leaves office. The Prime Minister does. Paul Martin dropped by Rideau Hall to drop off his letter to Michaelle Jean. Emerson was quickly swearing a new oath of office today.

Other notes:

Stockwell Day, one-time leader of the Canadian Alliance, is in the cabinet. He doesn't have his dream post, Foreign Affairs, but he is a cabinet minister. He's the Minister of Public Safety. Lefties are not fans of Stockwell.

Diane Ablonczy is not in the cabinet. Neither is Jason Kenney. This is interesting. Both of the M.P.s are intelligent, tough debaters who can toe-to-toe with the best. Incidentally, the best M.P. for verbal conflict is Stephane Dion, the former Minister of the Environment and before that, of Intergovernmental Affairs. He was a scourge of separatists, wherever he went. Anyways, Neither Ablonczy nor Kenney are in his league but they are good.

However, I wonder why they aren't in the cabinet. They are loyal, long-standing members. They are smart and capable. Perhaps the question is, what are they capable of? A cabinet minister needs to have management skills. I don't know if they do. I don't know what their practical skills are. If they are lacking in the skills to run a ministry, then kudos to Harper for not giving them one. I hope they don't disappear though.

Peter McKay is the Minister of Foreign Affairs. This is a tough posting and I think that he's young for it. I am curious to see whether he's got the substance for it. If he does, I think it will stand him in good stead for the future.

The three Ontario M.P.P.s are in the cabinet. Jim Flaherty is the Finance Minister. He'll do well there. Tony Clement is the Minister of Health. This is interesting. Being the Ontario Minister of Health is probably bigger than being the federal equivalent. The federal position is more abstract. Clement is smart and energetic but I think he was over-matched by the provincial posting. He might have the potential for it but he had not mastered all of the requisite skills for the post. It's probably one of the most demanding positions in Canadian politics as unlike say the Finance Minister, the Ontario Minister of Health has to publicly confront the doctors, nurses and administrators of the health industry while also pleasing the citizenry. It's a big job. Finally, one of my least favourite Ontario ministers, John Baird is now a federal cabinet minister, the president of the Treasury Board. Mr. Baird is a master of petty rhetoric and very tiresome. You can't really trust what he says and you can't really learn anything from any discussion that he's participating in. He won't allow it. The Tories of Ontario were thick with that type with Janet Ecker probably being the least appealing government minister. She's all right now that she's out of politics. Flaherty and Clement are better in that respect.

I like Flaherty as he actually has ideas and is more than willing to discuss them publicly. I think that the hard-right reputation he has is probably inappropriate — he's not an idealogue.

Finally, the other bombshell posting, Michael Fortier, minister of public works and government services. Mr. Fortier flies straight out of left field and into a cabinet post. He's not an M.P. I don't remember this happening in my lifetime. Not to say it hasn't happened but I don't think it's happened.

Incidentally, the quote above is how Harper introduced the cabinet. It's typical for him. He was succinct, to the point and without rhetorical flourish. He let his choices, his actions, speak for himself.

Another incidental, Tony Clement felt obligated to use his own pen, or at least to try to. He pulled a pen from his pocket but was asked to use the standard pen, which in low resolution, looks quite nice.

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