Loading articles...

Harper cabinet shuffle to include new, familiar faces

Prime Minister Stephen Harper pulls back the curtain today on a long-awaited cabinet makeover aimed at helping his troubled Conservative government win back the hearts of voters in 2015.

Will it be the full-blown federal facelift observers had predicted?

Harper is expected to begin unveiling details about the shuffle on Twitter at 10 a.m. View his tweets below, or click here to view a mobile-friendly version.

The shuffle — potentially the biggest since Harper took power in 2006 — means a number of young, new faces, some prominent departures and a rousing game of musical chairs in between. Some Conservative stalwarts, however — Finance Minister Jim Flaherty a case in point — are expected to stay put.

Calgary MP Michelle Rempel, parliamentary secretary to Environment Minister Peter Kent and a strong performer during question period, is among the new additions to cabinet, Conservative sources familiar with the changes told The Canadian Press.

Kent himself is leaving, as is junior transport minister Steven Fletcher, said the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity in advance of the official announcement. Five other ministers have already indicated their departure plans.

Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose, Heritage Minister James Moore, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley and junior minister Maxime Bernier are all moving to new portfolios, sources say.

Behind the scenes, many Conservatives have identified the need for generational change in order to go up against 41-year-old Justin Trudeau’s reinvigorated Liberals and Tom Mulcair’s NDP, a party already chock-a-block with young MPs and high-profile women.

“It’s going to be a substantial shuffle,” said one senior Conservative. “New faces, younger members, along with experienced hands. New women in cabinet.”

The cabinet shuffle is seen as one step in a three-stage effort to shake the governing Conservatives out of a mid-mandate malaise. A throne speech setting out refreshed policy themes is widely anticipated this fall, followed by a Conservative party policy convention in Calgary at the end of October.

A cabinet makeover has long been in Harper’s plan but with the Conservatives routinely polling behind Trudeau’s Liberals this spring and the toll taken by the Senate spending scandal, the shuffle has taken on a new urgency.

It was supposed to take place last week, but was delayed by the rail disaster in Lac-Megantic, Que. Harper met with some ministers after Canada Day at his summer home at Lake Harrington northwest of Ottawa, getting their read on how they did in their portfolios, and giving them hints on where he saw them going next.

Jason Lietaer, a principal at government relations firm ENsight Canada and a former Conservative insider, said he expects Harper will continue to play his winning hand from the 2011 election that finally delivered the Conservatives their long-sought majority — economic competence and stability.

The Conservatives have spent at least $113 million of taxpayer funds since 2009 on feel-good “economic action plan” advertising, and the government believes that branding is its trump card.

“The economy will continue to be our priority,” the senior Conservative said.

That suggests a stand-pat strategy in pillar departments. But some well-connected Conservatives argue that if Flaherty and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird don’t move, the cabinet makeover falls short of being a fundamental reset.

In Flaherty’s case, all indications appear to be that Harper will stay the course with the only finance minister he’s ever appointed.

Despite a recent exodus of staff from Flaherty’s office fuelling speculation he was on the way out, the former Ontario finance minister has openly lobbied to keep his job and says he wants to stay on until the government’s top priority — a balanced federal budget — is achieved, likely in 2015.

Flaherty is battling a painful skin disorder and many expect he won’t run again federally. Harper told cabinet members this winter to tell him if they were bowing out in 2015, as he would want to replace them this summer.

To be sure, the prime minister has some gaps to fill.

Vic Toews announced his retirement from politics last week, opening up the important public safety portfolio and a spot for a Manitoba MP. With Fletcher also believed to be on the way out, that could pave the way for both Shelley Glover and Candice Bergen to enter cabinet.

Peter Penashue, Harper’s former intergovernmental affairs minister, resigned over campaign spending irregularities and was defeated in a byelection in March.

Keith Ashfield has left his post as fisheries minister due to ill health.

Harper’s popular junior finance minister, Ted Menzies, is also stepping aside, as is fellow Calgarian Diane Ablonczy.

Sen. Marjory LeBreton, the Conservative government leader in the Senate and cabinet member, is resigning her post.

Lietaer suggested that in areas where the government hasn’t been able to get matters “over the finish line” — long-delayed environmental regulations on the oil and gas sector come to mind — “a fresh set of eyes” might help.

Top priorities over the next two years include pulling the trigger on a trade deal, getting approval for a pipeline from Alberta’s oilsands to the tide line, and negotiating the proposed new federal job training grant with reluctant provincial governments.