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Conservative MPs, left to right, Peter Kent, Diane Ablonczy, Ted Menzies and Julian Fantino wait to be sworn in during a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Tuesday. ((Sean Kilpatrick/ Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper moved Peter Kent into the high-profile environment portfolio Tuesday as part of a mini cabinet shuffle aimed at shoring up the Conservatives' front benches ahead of a possible spring election.

Kent, a broadcaster and former deputy editor of Global Television News, represents the Ontario riding of Thornhill.

Also in the shuffle, former Ontario Provincial Police commissioner Julian Fantino was named minister of state for seniors. Fantino was elected in November after a hard-fought byelection in the riding of Vaughan, north of Toronto.

Harper also tapped Alberta MP Ted Menzies to become the new minister of state for finance, while former seniors minister Diane Ablonczy is the new minister of state of foreign affairs for the Americas.

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In his new post, Menzies will serve as parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

Harper said the cabinet fine-tuning was required to "stay the course" with "the team we have continuing to execute the plan to deal with the recession."

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"Canadians have just come through a year during which the rewards of prudent financial stewardship, and of appropriate, well-timed stimulus measures have yielded dividends in jobs and growth," Harper said in a release announcing the changes.

"It is a good note upon which to start a new year. However, the global recovery is fragile. And there are still far too many jobless Canadians for whom the recovery has yet to become a full reality."

Environment portfolio key

The shuffle was made necessary when Jim Prentice left the environment portfolio in November to take over as vice-chairman of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

Kent's promotion to Environment fills a need for a capable spokesman in a portfolio where the minister is constantly under attack for the government's perceived lack of action on the file.

Moves highlight Toronto as key battleground

Evan Solomon, host of CBC's Power & Politics, said the promotion of two Toronto-area MPs shows the Conservatives are targeting "fortress Liberal," in preparation for a possible spring election.

The promotion of Fantino — known for his no-nonsense, tough-on-crime stances during his career in law enforcement — to the seniors portfolio is likely aimed at drawing on two key areas of Conservative support: seniors and residents of the Greater Toronto Area.

Canada has said it will follow the U.S. lead on climate change, particularly regarding a move to cut emissions from coal-burning power plants.

In reviewing Tuesday's cabinet shuffle, Liberal MP Marcel Proulx said the Conservatives missed an opportunity to add more women and more Quebec MPs to cabinet.

He also said under the Conservatives, the environment portfolio has been a "revolving door," with five ministers in the past five years.

In a message posted on Twitter, NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair said the shuffle shows Quebec is "clearly not a priority" and fails to show a commitment to the environment.

"PM 'only person in charge' on environment file, 'not meeting needs of future generations,' " said Mulcair's Twitter message. He added that Kent will only "repeat lines given to him" by the prime minister.

The House of Commons is on a winter break and will resume sitting on Jan. 31.

With files from The Canadian Press