The first Harper Conservative Cabinet

Stephen Harper was sworn in today as Canada's 22nd Prime Minister. He lost no time in getting down to action by naming a lean and mean 26-member cabinet, compared with 37 in the Martin cabinet prior to the January 23rd election. Despite the reduced size of the cabinet Harper threw a couple of curve balls. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the swearing in of Davis Emmerson, just recently Minister of Industry in the Martin cabinet, as Minister of International Trade in the new Conservative administration. Emerson, who as Liberal industry minister won re-election on Jan. 23, shocked observers Monday when he abruptly switched parties to work in a pared-down Conservative cabinet. This must be a new record for crossing the floor post-election. The Emmerson appointment must have left a few long-standing and hard-working B.C. Conservatives who didn't make it to the cabinet shell-shocked.

Given Harper's commitment to an elected Senate, the other surprise was the appointment of Conservative campaign co-chair Michael Fortier to the Senate and from there as Minister of Public Works and Government Services. Fortier's appointment to the Senate is supposed to be temporary until he resigns and runs in the next federal election.

Harper's moves with respect to Emmerson and Fortier were described as necessary to give two of Canada's largest cities, Vancouver and Montreal, representation in the cabinet. Similar treatment was not accorded to Toronto, Canada's largest city. Harper said that Jim Flaherty, the new Finance Minister, would be responsible for the GTA.

In terms of Conservatives missing from the cabinet the most glaring absence is Diane Ablonczy, widely expected to be given a prominent position in the cabinet. The appointment of 36-year-old Rona Ambrose instead of the experienced and very capable Ablonczy is curious.

Harper's cabinet building with heavy representation from Ontario and Quebec appears to be an attempt to position his government to secure a majority in the next election by securing more seats in these two most populous provinces.

The old adage "loose lips sinks ships" was applied vigourously in the days leading up to today's announcement. The success of Harper's administration and his attempt to secure a majority may well depend on the maintenance of the same rigourous discipline that has prevailed from the dropping of the election writ until now.

Following is the list of Ministers and their portfolios.


(in order of precedence)

The Right Honourable Stephen Joseph Harper

Prime Minister

The Honourable Robert Douglas Nicholson

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

The Honourable David Emerson

Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver - Whistler Olympics

The Honourable Jean-Pierre Blackburn

Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec

The Honourable Gregory Francis Thompson

Minister of Veterans Affairs

The Honourable Marjory LeBreton

Leader of the Government in the Senate

The Honourable Monte Solberg

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

The Honourable Chuck Strahl

Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

The Honourable Gary Lunn

Minister of Natural Resources

The Honourable Peter Gordon MacKay

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

The Honourable Loyola Hearn

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

The Honourable Stockwell Day

Minister of Public Safety

The Honourable Carol Skelton

Minister of National Revenue and Minister of Western Economic Diversification

The Honourable Vic Toews

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

The Honourable Rona Ambrose

Minister of the Environment

The Honourable Michael D. Chong

President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister for Sport

The Honourable Diane Finley

Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

The Honourable Gordon O’Connor

Minister of National Defence

The Honourable Beverley J. Oda

Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women

The Honourable Jim Prentice

Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and
Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

The Honourable John Baird

President of the Treasury Board

The Honourable Maxime Bernier

Minister of Industry

The Honourable Lawrence Cannon

Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities

The Honourable Tony Clement

Minister of Health and Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario

The Honourable James Michael Flaherty

Minister of Finance

The Honourable Josée Verner

Minister of International Cooperation and Minister for La Francophonie and Official Languages

The Honourable Michael Fortier

Minister of Public Works and Government Services


cardinal47 said...

If Vancouver and Montreal wanted representation in a Conservative cabinet, they could have elected some Conservative MPs. The Emmerson cross-over within days of running as a Liberal is particularly hard to accept. Harper has squandered some of his credibility.

Anonymous said...

If Vancouver and Montreal wanted representation in a Conservative cabinet, they could have elected some Conservative MPs. The Emmerson cross-over within days of running as a Liberal is particularly hard to accept. Harper has squandered some of his credibility.

Anonymous said...

Conservative bloggers are in a tizzy about the ethics of the Emerson move. Paul Wells is offering an award to the nominee who put forward the best apologia for Harper's decision, named SDA after Kate of Small Dead Animals blog, who opined that Harper had done just fine. Meanwhile BabblingBrooks is marshalling Conservative bloggers pissed at Harper's decision.

Anonymous said...

Harper’s One-Man-Band, and Pretzel Tories.

So, a little time has passed, and Harper’s daring moves to impress the electorate with his political acumen have now sunk in a bit. Reaction across the country to his cabinet appointments – and abandonment of principles espoused during the election – have varied from sheer disbelief, to shock, to amusement. Never has a Canadian politician fallen so far so fast. Usually it takes time for power to corrupt, but Mr. Harper is a man in a hurry.

Many Tories have had to swallow their tongues and bend themselves into pretzels defending the indefensible. Some MPs have said they fear going back to their ridings because they will have to explain to their supporters how the Harper crew did a sudden U-turn on the accountability issue, which, after all, was the Tory strong point in the election. Harper ran as Mr. Clean, and painted Martin as Mr. Corruption at every opportunity he had.

Even the rightwing press is stunned and disappointed.

Examples of press reaction:

The Vancouver Sun:

“"I expected some of the superficial criticism I've seen," Mr. Harper told The Vancouver Sun in an interview. "But I think once people sit back and reflect, they'll understand that this is in the best interests of not just British Columbia but frankly of good government." Mr. Harper referred to his statements on Monday, when he said he recruited Mr. Emerson to Cabinet to give Vancouver -- which didn't elect a Tory MP in five city ridings -- a voice in Cabinet. He used the same rationale to explain why he appointed Tory national campaign co-chairman Michael Fortier, a Montreal businessman, to the Senate and as Minister of Public Works. Montreal, like Vancouver, did not elect a government MP. "I think I was clear what I did and why I did it," Mr. Harper said yesterday.

The Calgary Sun – Roy Clancy:

“Stephen Harper must be breathing a sigh of relief today. Just minutes after being sworn in as prime minister, he relieved himself of one of the biggest burdens he had carried into the job. No longer must he live up to the impossible standard of political purity and ethical integrity saddled upon him by a naive electorate. ...But as widespread moans of anger illustrate, many Canadians took Harper seriously when he promised Monday to "begin a new chapter for Canada." No wonder they were disappointed when they learned within moments that this new chapter looks a lot like the old one. ...Harper's pragmatic moves may not have violated the letter of his promises to change the way government is run, but they shattered the spirit. .... Monday's manoeuvres quickly lowered the bar when it comes to public expectations of this new regime.“

The Calgary Sun - Rick Bell:

“See the Tories wriggle. Wriggle, Tories, wriggle. Ah yes, one party's turncoat is another party's principled politician. No anger now. No demands to step down and face the voters now. No nasty name-calling now. No sympathy for the poor electors of the riding of the quisling now. ... The trouble with talking about the moral high ground is you actually have to walk on it or, like the kid standing by the broken window after throwing the snowball, insist without shame you've done nothing wrong. ... So the rationalizations flow, the lame explanations are exhaled into the hot air and only those who have drunk the Conservative Kool-Aid will follow as good old ideological ants.”

So, what lessons can be taken from Harper’s first exercise of Prime Ministerial power? Here are a few for you to ponder:

• Just as it is unfair to accuse every Republican of having the same moral vacuity that President Bush has displayed, so too is it unfair to say that all Conservatives – and all voters who voted for the Tories – lack good moral and political judgment. It is very clear that there are a lot of people who voted Tory because they sincerely believed that it was time for the Liberals to mend their house, and for another party to bring in some anti-corruption measures. These people still have high standards; they are as bewildered by the events of this week as others are.

• Harper obviously believes he is above trifling things like having to take the feelings of others into consideration. This exercise of Prime Ministerial power shows that he will think things through – apparently mostly on his own – and then decide on the best way forward. If he explains his thought process, it is obvious to him that voters will then understand why he is right, and fall into line. There is a word for this: paternalism. Harper shows clear signs of seeing himself as the Big Wise Daddy of Canadian politics. His use of the word “superficial” to describe the reaction of others to his crass abandonment of some of the major planks of his election platform illustrates this very clearly.

• Harper is focused on winning a majority in the next election, to happen within 18 months. Everything he will do or say is geared to that. If lesser mortals within his own party do not understand this, that is their problem. They must suck it up and stay in line. Big Daddy knows best.

• Harper does not believe in a democratic party for the Tory government. It is his way or the highway (witness Stronach). This is perhaps the most worrisome aspect for many Tories: did they realize they were electing a dictator rather than the leader of a parliamentary party fashioned along the lines of a Westminster democracy? How many more decisions will be made by The Leader, and rammed down the throats of the caucus? And how can Canadians expect such decisions to be the best, if they are not tested by vigorous debate within the governing party before being made?

If Harper continues in the same vein for the next 12 months, expect him to join the ranks of the Clarks, Campbells and Martins as a short-lived blip on the Canadian political firmament.