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Tory cabinet possibilities

With a minority under their belts, the Conservatives can now turn their attention to getting ready to govern. As one of the first orders of business, leader Stephen Harper will need to assemble a transition team and start planning a cabinet.

Some political watchers have suggested that Harper is likely to reduce the size of the cabinet from its current 37 to about 30, but Harper himself has not said what his plans are.

There are several factors to consider when putting together a cabinet. Potential ministers must be intelligent, and must be seen to be capable, obviously. Harper doesn't have members with a lot of federal experience to call upon. Only two Conservative MPs have been in federal cabinet before, Garth Turner and Rob Nicholson. Neither is considered to be an inner-circle type in a Harper government.

Many others have provincial experience, including Ontarians John Baird, Tony Clement and Jim Flaherty. All three have been touted as cabinet possibles, giving the party representation in Ontario, where they gained 15 seats over their 2004 results.

There are other things to consider when shaping a cabinet: making sure the various regions of the country are represented, and making sure women and minorities have some sort of presence. Given the demographic of elected MPs, this can be tricky.

Luckily for Harper, his right-hand man Peter MacKay is from the riding of Central Nova in Nova Scotia. MacKay is the former leader of the Progressive Conservative party, and well respected. He is almost guaranteed a plum post in a Harper government.

Loyola Hearn represents the riding of St. John's South-Mount Pearl in Newfoundland and and Labrador. He has a lot of experience governing, after 11 years in provincial government, including a four-year stint as minister of education.

But who else?

As little as a week before the election, pundits had been suggesting that the Conservatives would be lucky to get three seats in Quebec. But fortune blessed them with a bit more choice in the province than they are used to. Harper has already said Quebec will play a role in cabinet.

Jos ée Verner represents the riding of Louis St-Laurent in Quebec. Verner lost to the BQ candidate in 2004 by just over seven per cent of the vote. Though she was not an MP, Harper appointed her as critic for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, and critic for the minister responsible for la Francophonie. That confidence is likely to translate into a role in the new government.

Also in Quebec, Lawrence Cannon is the MP for Pontiac. He has experience as a provincial minister of communications.

Bev Oda , the incumbent in Durham in Ontario is new to politics. A former CRTC commissioner, Oda has been serving as heritage critic, and is likely to get the nod as heritage minister.

Diane Finley from Haldimand-Norfolk Ontario and has served as the party's agriculture critic. She would be the first female federal agriculture minister.

Scott Reid is often described as a "Harper confidante" and is a likely choice for a spot in cabinet. He is the critic for democratic reform and the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario. He was first elected in 2000 in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington in Ontario.

Vic Toews from the Manitoba riding of Provencher, has been serving as justice critic and critic of the attorney general. He is one of the experienced MPs, having served as a provincial minister of labour in Manitoba. He has been an MP since 2000.

Steven Fletcher, who is a new MP from Charleswood-St.James-Assiniboia in Manitoba has served as the health critic for the official Opposition. At 33, he is one of the many under-40 rising stars in the party.

In the West, Harper's problem is an embarrassment of riches. The Conservatives swept Alberta, the party's power base.

Monte Solberg of Medicine Hat is one of the better-known faces of the Conservative party. He has been the finance critic since 2003, and is generally viewed to be good at what he does. He may not be chosen as finance minister, given that he doesn't have an economics background, but he is very likely to be in the cabinet in some capacity. He has been in the House since 1993, first as a Reform member, then an Alliance member, and now as a Conservative. That experience makes him a longer-serving member, and so a valuable asset to what would be a mostly inexperienced government.

Diane Ablonczy, from Calgary-Nose Hill, has been the critic for citizenship and immigration since 2002. She has been an outspoken MP, often raising questions in the House. She has been there since 1993, longer than many of her fellow members. In 2002, she ran for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance.

Jason Kenney has been a prominent figure since he began in politics. He was a member of the Reform party, then of the Alliance. He has served in Calgary Southeast since 1997. He has been critic for finance, national revenue, and Canada-U.S. relations.

Jim Prentice of Calgary Centre-North, has already served as critic for Indian affairs and northern development.

Bob Mills of Red Deer is an experienced MP, having served since 1993 as a Reform, Alliance and now Conservative member. Mills has been environment critic since 2001, and is likely to be tapped for the role of environment minister.

Harper is also likely to try to bring in some younger faces to make up the cabinet, including Rona Ambrose and James Rajotte. All have served in the shadow cabinet.

Further west, Harper can probably count on a few members from British Columbia.

Stockwell Day is the party's foreign affairs critic. He won easily in Okanagan-Coquilhalla, where he has served since 2000. He was once the leader of the then fledgling Canadian Alliance party.

Also in B.C., James Moore is just 29 but has served as an MP for Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam for five years. In opposition, he was the critic for transport and amateur sport.

Chuck Strahl in Chillliwack-Fraser Canyon could come out as Speaker. He was previously the deputy Speaker. Strahl is well known for his efforts to oust Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day in 2001. He and several Alliance colleagues left the party to sit as the Democratic Representative Caucus. Day was eventually forced out. However, Strahl has been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, and may choose a more low-key role.

Other possibilities: Carol Skelton of Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, Peter Van Loan of York-Simcoe, Gordon O'Connor of Carleton-Mississippi Mills, and Jay Hill of Prince George-Peace River Prince George-Peace River. Political advisers

No matter who is in cabinet, the first people to get to work will be the advisers and transition experts. Political science professor David Laycock at Simon Fraser University says an inexperienced cabinet can shift the balance of power. "When cabinet ministers are inexperienced, the prime minister has more power," he says. "It means that the advisors to the PM, who have been with him for a very long time, have a lot of power."

One of the people who has been close to Harper for a long time is Tom Flanagan, a political science professor at the University of Calgary. Flanagan is known for his writings on aboriginal affairs, which question the tenets underlying aboriginal policy. Flanagan argues that prior residency shouldn't necessarily lead to special treatment for native populations. Flanagan has advised Harper on a variety of topics, and was originally a key part of Preston Manning's Reform Party.

Marjory LeBreton has been around the conservative scene a long time, but not always with Harper. In fact, as a Progressive Conservative, she initially opposed the merger that created the Conservative Party. LeBreton was a senior adviser to Brian Mulroney, who later appointed her a senator. She has been with Harper on the campaign tour, and has been quoted as saying she believes Harper has changed since becoming leader of the merged party.

Two other returning veterans are Senator Hugh Segal and Derek Burney. Both are former chiefs of staff to Brian Mulroney. Both were consulted about transition plans before the 2004 election, and both have reportedly been signed on again this time. Burney spent much of his time there involved in negotiations on the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

Harper's current chief of staff is Ian Brodie, an associate professor at the University of Western Ontario. He has not been in the position long, however. He has worked for Stephen Harper before, as assistant to the chief of staff when the Canadian Alliance was the official opposition.

A former chief of staff with governing experiencing is Guy Giorno, who was the top adviser to former Ontario Premier Mike Harris.

Doug Finleyis Harper's campaign co-chair, and has also been the party's director of political operations, a role he first played for the Canadian Alliance. He is married to Ontario MP Diane Finley, who has served as agriculture critic in the shadow cabinet. He is very likely to play a role not just in transition, but during a government. The Ottawa Hill Times newspaper reports that many Tory insiders have cited his managerial and organizational skills as reasons for the smooth Conservative campaign.

Harper will also count on regional advisers to give him advice, even if they don't make the move to Ottawa as part as the federal team. Ken Bosenkool in Calgary, Michael Fortier in Quebec, and Kevin Gallagher in Ontario are all likely on the list.

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