Cabinet fever for PM

Rising stars from Ontario expected to join Harper’s inner circle

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by L. IAN MacDONALD
Sun Media, Friday, May 13, 2011

Stephen Harper has a simple playbook — cabinet shuffle, throne speech and budget into a summer recess of the new Parliament at the end of June.

Cabinet-making is at once a prime minister’s most powerful prerogative and the loneliest part of his job, one involving painful choices that make some careers and break others.

In his cabinet shuffle expected next week, Harper has six vacancies to fill, with three Quebec ministers defeated by the NDP Orange Wave; and three gone from British Columbia — one defeated by Green Leader Elizabeth May and two who retired.

There are the usual considerations — mainly regional and gender balance — that shape a PM’s choices.

In this instance, Harper’s challenge will be to choose from a wealth of talent in Ontario, while maintaining that Quebec is well represented in government despite having elected only five Tory members, pending a recount in Riviere-du-Loup.

Ontario gave the Conservatives their majority last week, increasing the province’s Tory deputation from 51 to 73 seats, thanks to late vote-splitting by the NDP and the Liberals. (The Conservatives won 44% of the Ontario vote, to 25% each for the NDP and Liberals).

If Quebecers want to know why Ontario gets 15 seats in Cabinet while their province gets only three, they have only to compare the results.

In any event, the first thing Harper needs is a new foreign minister. One candidate might be House Leader John Baird, who’s been Harper’s go-to guy on hot files such as the Accountability Act at Treasury Board and climate change at Environment.

Another possibility is Chris Alexander, the star candidate and former ambassador to Afghanistan who broke through in the 905-belt riding of Ajax-Pickering.

While it would be unusual for a freshman to get this senior post, Alexander has spent his entire career at Foreign Affairs and knows the culture of the department. Alternatively, he would be a logical choice to replace Bev Oda in the junior portfolio of International Development.

Another new MP with a bright future is Kellie Leitch, a pediatric surgeon who has run two children’s hospitals in Ontario, who won in Simcoe. She’s an obvious choice if Harper wants to name a junior minister of health to re-negotiate the 2004 Health Care Accord with the provinces, which expires in 2014.

In the city of Toronto, where the Tories unexpectedly won nine out of 23 seats (their best guess in the war room was four), two obvious choices are Mark Adler and Joe Oliver, who knocked off Joe Volpe and Ken Dryden in the affluent ridings of Eglinton-Lawrence and York Centre.

The 905 suburban belt gave the Conservatives 21 of 22 seats in the region. There are two possibilities for junior ministers, Parm Gill, who defeated Ruby Dhalla in Brampton-Springdale, would bring representation from the Indo-Canadian community.

There’s also Stella Ambler, former head of Jim Flaherty’s regional office in Toronto, who defeated 18-year incumbent Paul Szabo. She could be a minister of state at Finance or assume some responsibilities for the Toronto area.

Another possibility from outside the GTA is Dean del Mastro, who won again in Peterborough, one of the most diligent and popular Tory MPs who could be in line for a junior portfolio like Amateur Sport.

Only one guy, Harper, knows how the pieces of his cabinet puzzle will come together. But Ontario is the key.

 
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