Don't expect Julian Fantino or Peter Kent to depart from the usual dodging and weaving we've seen from other Conservative cabinet members.  It's just not Harper's style, says Rex.

Read the transcript of this point of view

Rex Murphy Point of View

January 6, 2011

It's a timid bunch in Ottawa. They rarely, if ever, take strong positions – government or opposition – bow instead to the fuzzy nuances of endless polls, and present themselves as allergic to clarity or decisiveness. Canadian politics has been as a result dormant or stagnant or inert for so long that's it's difficult to get any kind of handle on it.

Take this week's Cabinet dusting – to call it a shuffle is far too vigorous. It really only had one major point. To install Julian Fantino while the dew was still fresh upon him from his election into Mr. Harper's patently unexciting cabinet. No one seriously believes there was an urgency to this New Years appointment beyond a Santa Claus gesture to Mr. Fantino for grabbing the Vaughn seat from the careless Liberals.

Every good partisan deed is best done .... quickly.

Canadian seniors are unlikely to be throwing house parties now that Mr. Harper has handed their file to the ex-police chief. For if he acts as minister as he campaigned as a candidate, ducking meetings and working under the radar, there's no reason why they should.

Likewise those who see this appointment as Mr. Harper reinforcing his commitment on that old Tory standby "law and order" issues, might want to think again as well. Mr. Fantino is sluiced into cabinet when, thanks largely to Christie Blatchford's book on the subject, the conduct of the Ontario Provincial Police - whose boss he was - during the Caledonia seige is in serious and fundamental question.

Now that he's an honorable there's not much chance of that question earning real exercise. How few they are: the people who get the opportunity to escape a controversy by being thrown into a cabinet. The pattern is almost universally – see Helena Guergis - the reverse.

About the deposit of Peter Kent into the environmental portfolio there's probably even less to say. Let's put it this way – if the Harper cabinet were a symphony orchestra the Minister of the Environment would be the guy at the back playing the triangle.

Now Mr. Kent is undoubtedly a good soldier for taking the ministerial equivalent of Miss Congeniality, but he wasn't put there to make a mark, merely to continue a camouflage.

Any candid reading of the Harper Conservatives tells us that while they don't dare be seen as environmentally "incorrect" - they use all the right words and adopt the right postures – but they're as resistant to the current fashionable environmental agenda as it is possible to be. It's just that they don't have the courage to say so. So they 'hint' and 'tweak' and 'signal,' but scrupulously avoid any tumbling into statements of principle or point.

From human rights commissions to Kyoto, they temporize and shuffle. Which has some people, some conservatives I should add, raising the interesting question: What's the value of a Conservative party that prefers not to declare itself. A hard question for an election year. Timidity never inspires.

For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.