For more details on the cabinet selections, please view the full report

INTRODUCTION + OVERVIEW

In considering the prime minister’s cabinet shuffle this morning, one can’t help but be reminded of the late French novelist Alphonse Karr’s observation, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – the more a thing changes, the more it remains the same. That is because, despite making a number of very significant changes and additions to the federal cabinet, the prime minister has kept a number of his most senior ministers in their existing portfolios.

The prime minister has gone to great lengths to balance the preservation of competence and experience with the promotion of new talent and generational change. Moreover, the sheer number of changes represents a significant departure from the trend he has established in all of his previous cabinet shuffles. Consequently, the question on the minds of the nation has changed from “Who is going where?” to “What does this all mean?”

For his part, the prime minister has characterized the shuffle as a ‘renewal’ of cabinet – which suggests less a change in focus than a renewed commitment to existing priorities. The economy, employment, skills training, international trade and resource development – all of which dominated the first half of the government’s current mandate – continue to be the primary preoccupation of the prime minister and his cabinet.

DOUBLING DOWN ON THE ECONOMY

Notwithstanding considerable speculation in recent weeks, the prime minister did not name a new minister of finance. The decision, which virtually ensures that Jim Flaherty will serve in the position longer than former Prime Minister Paul Martin, was assiduously leaked last night to calm the Monday morning investment markets and reflects the prime minister’s key message that the economy remains a priority for this government.

To further reinforce that message, the prime minister named the Hon. Jason Kenney to the newly reconstituted position of minister of employment and social development (formerly human resources and skills development Canada). Kenney, who had served as minister of citizenship and immigration immediately tweeted: “I will work hard to end the paradox of too many people without jobs in an economy that has too many jobs without people.”

Minister Kenney had worked closely with his HRSDC predecessor, the Hon. Diane Finlay, and her Parliamentary Secretary Kellie Leitch, on changes to the temporary foreign worker program. He will now lead the management of that ongoing file, working alongside Minister Leitch in her capacity as the newly appointment of minister of labour. Minister Kenney is replaced at citizenship and immigration by former Ambassador Chris Alexander.

Another important change to an economic portfolio is the appointment of the Hon. James Moore as minister of industry. Moore, previously the minister of heritage, inherits the portfolio from the Hon. Christian Paradis – who becomes minister of international cooperation. It is expected that Minister Moore will be a more active and engaged industry minister, as the government moves to implement changes to the rules governing telecommunications and foreign investment.

With Minister Paradis leaving Industry Canada, the only Quebec-based minister with an economic or quasi-economic portfolio is the Hon. Maxime Bernier – who will continue to serve as minister of state (small business). The main economic positions are now primarily occupied by elected officials from Ontario and Alberta, including newly appointed minister of state (finance), Kevin Sorenson from Crowfoot, Alberta.

CONTINUITY IN KEY PORTFOLIOS

In addition to Minister Flaherty, a number of frontline ministers have retained their current portfolios. Chief among these are Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, International Trade Minister Ed Fast, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, Treasury Board President Tony Clement and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. Their continued service in those roles clearly suggests continuity and stability in those key priority areas.

Many of those same ministers will serve or continue to serve on the influential Cabinet Committee on Priorities and Planning, chaired by the prime minister himself. The so-called P&P committee “provides strategic direction on government priorities and expenditure management, ratifies committee recommendatios and approves appointments.” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will succeed Senator Marjory LeBreton as vice-chair of that committee.

The notable absence of changes in these key portfolios is further evidence that the prime minister intends to remain focused on the priorities he outlined in his speech to the World Economic Forum in New Delhi last November. In that speech, Prime Minister Harper indicated that his government was committed to trade, taxes, training, technology and transformation of government – sometimes described as the ‘Five Ts’.

More specifically, there is now little question that the government will continue to implement an ambitious and aggressive trade agenda based on Canada’s global importance as a resource and agricultural exporter. Among the major ongoing files in those areas are the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) talks with the European Union, the Keystone XL pipeline, as well as the future of Canada’s supply management regime.

NEW FACES, NEW IDEAS

As promised, the prime minister also used the shuffle to inject new talent into the senior ranks of his government. A total of eight first-time ministers were appointed, including such rising stars as Heritage Minister Shelly Glover and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander. Others include Minister of State (western economic diversification) Michelle Rempel and Minister of State (democratic reform) Pierre Polievre.

The members of caucus promoted to the cabinet benches are, to a person, widely recognized as staunch supporters and vocal defenders of the prime minister and his policies. In that sense, it is perhaps noteworthy that the prime minister did not name anyone to cabinet who numbered among those who were known to be concerned or discouraged by the recent challenges endured by the government in recent months.

It is arguable that the only true concession to those who had aired their misgivings about the direction of the government or management of the caucus was the appointment of the Hon. John Duncan as Chief Government Whip. Duncan replaces retired General and former Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor, who was removed from cabinet altogether. (As a surprise to some, Peter Van Loan retains his position as government house leader.)

WOMEN IN CHARGE

The prime minister also made good on his commitment to increase the number of women in cabinet, appointing a record twelve female ministers – exceeding the previous record of eleven. More significantly, women now lead important portfolios such as health (Hon. Rona Ambrose); environment (Hon. Leona Aglukkaq); public works (Hon. Diane Finley); transport (Hon. Lisa Raitt); labour (Hon. Kellie Leitch) and heritage (Hon. Shelly Glover).

The increased influence of women in cabinet also extends to the important cabinet committee roles, where a number of changes have also been made. Ministers Ambrose and Glover will join the P&P committee, where they will serve alongside Minister Finley. Minister Ambrose will also chair the cabinet committee on social affairs, while Minister Finley will chair the cabinet committee on economic prosperity.

DEFENCE AND SECURITY

After six years in their respective portfolios, Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson have swapped positions. The department of justice will be a good fit for Mackay, a lawyer by training who briefly served as a Nova Scotia Crown prosecutor before entering politics. Nicholson, in turn, is one of the most experienced members of the cabinet, having also served in the cabinet of former Prime Minister Kim Campbell.

The retirement of longtime Conservative Member of Parliament and cabinet minister Vic Toews last week guaranteed that the government would have a new Minister of Public Safety – and that vacancy has been filled by Quebec MP and former Minister of Veterans Affairs Stephen Blaney. Minister Blaney will undoubtedly work very closely with whomever U.S. President Barack Obama appoints as his next Secretary of Homeland Security in the coming months.

REGIONAL DIVERSITY

While the renewed cabinet continues to have much the same regional balance as the previous cabinet, the prime minister made a point of naming three new ‘regional ministers’: ACOA Minister Rob Moore becomes regional minister for New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador; Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel becomes regional Minister for Quebec; and Heritage Minister Shelly Glover becomes regional minister for Manitoba.

In the case of both New Brunswick and Manitoba, the changes were required because the previous regional ministers are no longer in cabinet. In the case of Quebec, however, the prime minister has indicated that the regional responsibilities have been shifted from Minister Paradis to Minister Lebel because of their new ministerial portfolios. Regional ministers provide advice and counsel on local issues, and help manage political issues in their home provinces.

PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS

Any cabinet shuffle, large or small, creates a window of opportunity for stakeholders to re-engage with the government. The significant changes to the ministry announced today will be followed by equally significant changes to ministerial staff and parliamentary secretaries. In the weeks ahead, new ministers and ministers with new portfolios will receive their personalized mandate letters as well as countless departmental briefings.

The window for engagement is about ensuring that ministers also receive the benefit of outside counsel and advice from key stakeholders within their new areas of responsibility. To that end, many will seek out meetings or events that will allow them to meet with those interested in the activities of their respective departments and agencies. These are invaluable opportunities to be seized upon whenever and wherever possible.

Lastly, today’s shuffle was also unique in the manner in which it was communicated. Beginning last night, the prime minister used Twitter as his preferred means of disseminating news about the changes. For the first time, social media was used to confirm the ministerial appointments before the formal ceremony in Ottawa. From the standpoint of process and procedure, this might be evidence of a shift in approach under the prime minister’s new Chief of Staff Ray Novak.

CONCLUSION

In closing, today’s cabinet shuffle is only the first of three anticipated events intended to refresh, refocus and refine the government’s policy agenda. Between now and the return of Parliament this fall, most observers expect the prime minister to make changes to both the staff in his office as well as the senior ranks of the public service. There will almost certainly be changes to the list of Parliamentary Secretaries and House of Commons’ committee chairs.

It is also expected that the government will begin the new session of Parliament with a Speech from the Throne. Any such speech would be the government’s first best opportunity to lay out its comprehensive policy agenda in advance of the next election. It is in many ways unfortunate that the speech will likely happen before the Conservative Party Policy Conference, which was delayed until mid-fall following the recent, tragic floods in Calgary.

With a fixed date election scheduled for October 2015, there is no doubt that the unofficial election season has begun. Both the government and opposition will now be working backwards from that date, identifying opportunities for political advantage. Whether today’s shuffle helps the prime minister’s electoral chances will only be known in time, but what is known today is that this is the team he intends to lead into the next election.