A mix of young talent, veteran experience and more women at the cabinet table signals a "generational change" as the government prepares for a major policy reset with a fall speech from the throne, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said after unveiling his new inner circle.
The major cabinet makeover elevates eight MPs to the front bench — including four women — and creates new portfolios for multiculturalism and social development.
"I think this is a good mixture of some young and promising talent we have in our caucus and some experienced hands," Harper said after the swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall on Monday morning.
Harper said the government will continue to focus on key priority areas — the economy and job creation, public safety, celebrating Canada's history and promoting the country's interests on the world stage. He touted the government's economic record during a prolonged period of global uncertainty, and said new policy directions are on the way.
"This fall, the government will move ahead with a renewed policy agenda set forward in a speech from the throne," he said. "And our new agenda will have new faces to bring it forward — the team Canadians elected in 2011 is deep and it is talented."
Details of the sweeping overhaul were revealed through Harper's Twitter account before the re-tooled inner circle was officially unveiled with traditional pomp and ceremony.
Three veteran ministers — Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Treasury Board President Tony Clement — are staying put in their key portfolios. But a majority was elevated to new roles, shuffled around or left out of the cabinet remix branded "fresh faces, experienced hands."
Four new faces at the table are women: Manitoba MP Shelly Glover landed a big promotion as minister of heritage; Ontario MP Kellie Leitch was named minister of labour and minister of status of women; Alberta MP Michelle Rempel is now minister of state for Western diversification and Manitoba MP Candice Bergen heads up a new file as minister of state for social development.
Rempel said the government has a strong track record of advocating women's rights — and that its economic focus also supports women.
"I always take offence when people call something women's issues because all issues are women's issues," she said. "To be able to serve with a government that understands that ensuring our country remains economically prosperous — that benefits everyone. It benefits Canadian families and it benefits Canadian women."
The new appointments increase the female count to 12 in the 39-member cabinet. Nancy Peckford, executive director of Equal Voice, welcomed the news even though only 17 per cent of the Conservative caucus is women.
"This builds on the momentum already being generated by Canada's women premiers who are just under 50 per cent of the First Ministers' table," she said. "The sky really is the limit for women in politics right now. It's up to us now to seize the moment and encourage and equip more women to get their names on the ballot."
MacKay and Nicholson swap jobs
Ontario MP Chris Alexander was handed a significant post, replacing Jason Kenney as minister of citizenship and immigration. Kevin Sorenson becomes minister of state for finance, Pierre Poilievre is minister of state for democratic reform and Greg Rickford is named the new minister of state for science and technology.
Alexander said the mix of new blood and experience will benefit the government.
"What you've seen today is the addition of younger people who have been in the House of Commons and worked hard in other capacities, but whose advice and energy is going to be added to that experienced team," he said. "I think it adds up to a very powerful combination."
A number of other key portfolios changed hands as well including Peter MacKay and Rob Nicholson swapping the defence and justice portfolios. Steven Blaney was named the new public safety minister, leaving the veterans affairs post to Julian Fantino.
Harper also made some structural changes: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada was renamed as Employment and Social Development; the associate minister of defence position was eliminated; and the government leader in the Senate position is no longer in cabinet.
The ceremony began on a sombre note, with participants honouring the victims of the train derailment and explosion in Lac-Mégantic with a minute of silence.
After being temporarily back-benched, John Duncan returns to cabinet as government whip, replacing Gordon O'Connor, who was left out of the mix along with Steven Fletcher. Fletcher issued a statement suggesting his demotion was designed to make room for more women, and confirming he would still seek re-election in 2015.
"In today's significant cabinet shuffle, Manitoba gains two new female ministers. I look forward to working with ministers Glover and Bergen to make Manitoba and Canada, a better place," he said. "The prime minister has stated that there needs to be more women in cabinet and in politics. I agree. Gender distribution is an important part of any cabinet composition."
Other major moves:
- Rona Ambrose becomes minister of health.
- Jason Kenney takes on the new portfolio of employment and social development.
- Lisa Raitt becomes minister of transport.
- Leona Aglukkaq becomes minister of the environment.
- Diane Finley becomes minister of public works.
- Kerry-Lynne Findlay becomes minister of national revenue.
Findlay, the new minister of national revenue, declared bankruptcy in 2001. In 2011, Findlay attributed her money problems to a lengthy court battle over property, not an inability to handle finances.
The NDP called the cabinet re-tool a "desperate" attempt to put a fresh face on a tired and scandal-plagued government. But keeping ministers in key portfolios and appointing "up-and-comers" to junior posts was a missed opportunity to instill meaningful change, said deputy leader Megan Leslie.
"Is this setting the stage for the throne speech? Probably. Will the throne speech be as underwhelming as this cabinet shuffle? I can only imagine," she said. "I'll continue to hope for something different, but this doesn't bode well."
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau suggested the shuffle will not lead to the real change Canadians want.
"It is clear that the only minister who has any power in this government is the prime minister. Today's shuffle does not change that," he said in a prepared statement. "Canadians elected members of Parliament to represent their views in Ottawa, but under the Harper Conservatives, they have had Ottawa's views imposed on them."
"Mr. Harper is clearly satisfied with his government's performance. We are not. We think that the worst record on economic growth since the 1930s is nothing to be happy about. Canadians deserve better."
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