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Michael Fortier, the new minister of public works, Monday.

There were two surprises as the Harper cabinet was unveiled Monday: Former Liberal industry minister David Emerson has jumped ship to become the Conservative minister of international trade, and Michael Fortier, an unelected party operative, is the new minister of public works and government services.

Even more surprising, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will appoint Fortier to the Senate.

Harper said Fortier will run for a House of Commons seat in "the next federal election" rather than seeking one before that in a by-election.

It is an odd decision for Harper, who campaigned on a promise of an elected Senate and spoke against the idea of unelected ministers.

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David Emerson, while still a Liberal cabinet minister, responds to opposition questions about General Motors layoffs in the House of Commons in 2005. (CP Photo/Fred Chartrand)

"If you look carefully at what I said in the election campaign, I did leave open that possibility," he told reporters after the cabinet was sworn in.

The Fortier appointment, he said, was a "flexible" way of dealing with realities his government faces.

"One is that we have to have a cabinet minister from Montreal. Michael Fortier is leaving a lucrative private-sector job to take this. I'm pleased that he is willing to do that.

"But he has only a temporary [Senate] appointment. He has agreed to step down at the next federal election, to contest the next federal election.

"And so this Senate seat will be available for elections. We will be proceeding with Senate elections in the not-too-distant future."

Fortier, a Montreal lawyer and businessman, co-chaired Harper's campaign for the leadership of the new Conservative Party in 2004. This year, Fortier was co-chair of the party's national election campaign but did not run for a seat.

He was an also-ran in the 1998 Progressive Conservative leadership contest and ran unsuccessfully for Parliament in 2000.

Who's that arriving at Rideau Hall?

Emerson, a 60-year-old former banker, businessman and economist, was elected in the B.C. riding of Vancouver-Kingsway in 2004 and re-elected last month, both times as a Liberal.

To the surprise of many, he showed up at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday morning to be sworn into the cabinet. In addition to his duties as trade minister, he will be responsible for the Vancouver Olympics.

He said he hadn't talked to former prime minister Paul Martin about the switch. "Nobody knew about this," he told reporters.

Emerson said he was "a small-c Liberal" even before changing parties and cast himself as a moderating force in the new cabinet.

The Conservative Party "has been moving to the centre because of the checks and balances in Parliament," he said, "and I think the fact that Mr. Harper has reached out to someone like me is an indication that they are becoming a middle-of-the-road party, and I think I can be helpful in moving in that direction."

Harper told reporters he was impressed with Emerson as he watched him from across the Commons floor.

"He's a man of great intelligence, a man with a stellar record in the private sector who is clearly committed to public service," Harper said. "I asked David Emerson to join Canada's new government and he accepted.

"... He served Mr. Martin loyally and faithfully. Obviously that service is over."

Emerson was formerly B.C.'s deputy minister of finance. He also served as president of Western and Pacific Bank of Canada (now Canadian Western Bank), the B.C. Trade Development Corp. and Canfor Corp., B.C.'s largest forestry company.

In changing parties, he followed the example of former Conservative MP Belinda Stronach, who crossed the floor last year to become a Liberal cabinet minister.

At that time, Harper said:

"We don't go out of our way to romance MPs to get them to cross the floor. Liberals will do anything to win.

"We are trying to create a principled party where people act in a principled way, and obviously we're fairly cautious about encouraging party jumping, because that's the kind of thing that generates cynicism.

"And frankly, when someone jumps, once you're not sure you can trust them the next time, so I would always handle that with an extraordinary degree of caution."