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Harper to shuffle cabinet in preparation for 2015 election

Jim Flaherty, John Baird among ministers potentially on the move

Posted: Jul 14, 2013 2:44 PM ET

Last Updated: Jul 14, 2013 6:52 PM ET

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is poised to shuffle his front bench, setting in place the team that will carry the Conservative government into the 2015 election.

Ray Novak, Harper's chief of staff, began phoning ministers and cabinet newcomers with their new assignments on Saturday night, with the formal appointments set to be announced Monday morning at Rideau Hall.

There is much talk of generational change as the Conservatives, now in power for more than seven years, seek to freshen up the front bench in an effort to take the bloom off Justin Trudeau's reinvigorated Liberals and Tom Mulcair's NDP.

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.

"You're going to be seeing the teams and the people that are really fighting it out for power in 2015," Jason Lietaer, a principal at government relations firm ENsight Canada and former Conservative insider, said Sunday.

"The prime minister is setting his lineup for the upcoming battle."

'The prime minister is setting his lineup for the upcoming battle.'—Jason Lietaer, political strategist

Lietaer is among those who believe Harper will continue to play his winning card from the 2011 election that finally delivered the Conservatives their long-sought majority — economic competence and stability.

That means several key Conservative stalwarts are staying put, while lesser cabinet portfolios are shuffled around them.

All eyes will be on Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

A recent exodus of staff from Flaherty's office has fuelled speculation he could be moving, however the only finance minister Harper has ever appointed 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 unlikely to run in 2015

Flaherty is battling a painful skin condition 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, making Flaherty an interesting case to watch.

Others to watch will be Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, John Baird at foreign affairs, Treasury Board President Tony Clement and Heritage Minister James Moore.

What's known is that the prime minister has some gaps to fill.

Vic Toews announced his retirement from politics last week, opening up the important public safety portfolio.

Keith Ashfield has left his post as the fisheries minister due to ill health, and Peter Kent has publicly indicated he'll be out as environment minister — something confirmed Sunday by sources.

Harper's popular junior finance minister, Ted Menzies, is also stepping aside, and Sen. Marjory LeBreton, the Conservative government leader in the Senate and cabinet member, is also resigning her post.

The cabinet is almost certain to become younger and with more women in higher profile roles.

Lietaer suggests 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 and trade negotiations come to mind — "a fresh set of eyes" might help.

And Harper also needs to send a message internally to caucus that good performers are rewarded while incompetence is not, said Lietaer.

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