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Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, newly re-elected and with his party finally holding a majority of seats in Parliament, announced his new cabinet today. Underlying message: “What were all you voters so scared of?”
It's a stay-the-course cabinet, mostly unchanged except where a minister either was defeated or chose not to seek re-election. The biggest hole Harper had to fill was at Foreign Affairs, where minister Lawrence Cannon was swept from office by Quebec's New Democratic tide. Many feared he'd be succeeded by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, one of the cabinet's more tea-partyish, socially conservative members. Instead, the post went to John Baird, a Harper loyalist who had previously served as transport minister and environment minister. In the latter role, he tirelessly stonewalled any action on climate change. Still, the consensus is he's less likely to screw up international relations than Kenney would have. Kenney, who largely crafted Harper's election strategy, keeps his immigration job, plus gets to chair the powerful cabinet operations committee.
The election cost the Conservatives half their seats in Quebec, with the result that four out of the five MPs they elected had to be given cabinet posts, including Maxime Bernier, who was fired as foreign minister a few years back for forgetting secret NATO documents in his girlfriend's apartment.
A record seven aboriginal candidates (five Tories, two NDP) were elected this month, and two of them were named to the 39-member cabinet. One is an Innu from Newfoundland-Labrador, the other an Inuk from the territory of Nunavut, prompting a pre-emptive press release from Inuit leadership explaining that they are what Americans, quinn and CFL football fans call Eskimos, while Innu are a band of what everyone except the First Nations themselves call Indians. The Canadian government, itself apparently confused, threw up its hands and renamed the Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development the Dept. of Aboriginal Affairs. Unfortunately, but typically, they neglected to ask the indigenous peoples, who are now upset at the lumping-together of Inuit, status Indians, non-status Indians and Métis (who are part-Indian, part-French). I'm sure they'll just appoint a royal commission to sort everything out.
Meanwhile, down the hall, 102 New Democratic MPs, about half of whom really are new, are settling in to the sumptuous offices of the Official Opposition. The rookies, some of whom were writing university term papers a month ago, now have research staffs, riding expense accounts, pension plans and salaries in the low six figures. They also have a lot to learn about parliamentary procedure and protocol. Some will necessarily be named to the NDP shadow cabinet, giving them the responsibility ofo questioning their opposite numbers about their portfolios. Personally, I think they'll rise to the challenge and bring a breath of fresh air to Parliament Hill.
I won't get into policy issues until after Parliament convenes next month and the Tories propose a budget. The big question is how closely it will resemble the one rejected by the opposition parties before the election. It could be every bit as in-your-face, or Harper could demonstrate he really intends, as promised, to govern from the center. It could happen, now that most criticism will be coming from somewhat further to the left.