No room for Leitch in Scheer's shadow cabinet, but a big seat for Poilievre

Don't call them critics. Andrew Scheer says his government-in-waiting is a shadow cabinet, but does the new name mean there's a new job description for its members?

The Conservative leader introduces his government-in-waiting

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer has assembled his shadow cabinet to challenge the Liberals in the House of Commons. There were a couple surprises on the list. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

So it seems Kellie Leitch didn't pass the values screening required to enter Andrew Scheer's shadow cabinet.

What to do with Leitch, the polarizing leadership candidate who proposed questioning immigrants about their commitment to "Canadian values" and celebrated Donald Trump's election victory in the U.S., had loomed as one of the more interesting early decisions Scheer would have to make as Conservative leader.

Though she finished sixth in that race, she still seemed to find an audience. What's more, she was a minister in Stephen Harper's cabinet and had been health critic when the Conservatives moved to Opposition in 2015 (she relinquished that role when she entered the leadership race). She's a doctor and, at least previous to her screening proposal, she could be described as a well-connected party insider. 

Conservative MP Kellie Leitch squared off against Scheer in the party's leadership race. Scheer won and has now relegated her to the backbench. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

But her inclusion in the shadow cabinet would have been noted. Indeed, the Liberals would've no doubt been thrilled to turn her presence into a club with which they could beat Scheer over the head.

Now, as Scheer continues to recast the post-Harper Conservative Party, Leitch is relegated to the backbench.

Bernier doesn't get finance

So too is Brad Trost, another leadership candidate and the most outspoken social conservative in the Conservative caucus. While running for leader, he said he would never march in a Pride parade.

Scheer's own social views have been a point of curiosity and Trost's inclusion would have fed those questions. Whether Scheer himself walks in a Pride parade remains to be seen.

All other top leadership candidates are present and accounted for on Scheer's team, including Maxime Bernier, who had taken the novel approach of openly declaring his interest in the finance portfolio.

Instead, Bernier will be responsible for shadowing Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains.

Putting Bernier at finance would have been awkward unless Scheer was ready to adopt Bernier's dramatic tax cuts. And insofar as Bains will likely spend the next two years announcing grants, financing and partnerships with tech companies and manufacturers, Bernier will presumably have plenty of "corporate welfare" to complain about.

Poilievre gets big role

The prominent role of finance goes to Pierre Poilievre, who is perhaps most famous for frustrating his partisan rivals in question period.

That reputation aside, Poilievre has revelled in expounding on "economic freedom." He has said that reading Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom at the age of 17 was a "seminal" moment in his political development. His website has been decorated with quotes like, "Small government makes for big citizens" and "Government cannot give anything, without first taking it away."

Those are the sorts of things that might bring a tear of joy to Maxime Bernier's eye.

Pierre Poilievre sits down with Piya Chattopadhyay to discuss his new role as Conservative finance critic 6:22

Which is not to say Poilievre is inflexible. As a minister in Stephen Harper's cabinet, he travelled the country at public expense to promote his government's child benefit, touting it as "Christmas in July." He is credited with suggesting the children's fitness tax credit, which diverted general tax revenues to those with certain expenses and enough taxable income as a de facto social program (it also disproportionately benefited wealthier families).

As much as Poilievre has frustrated other parties in the House of Commons, he should be expected to challenge Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who, while affable, can be a bit rigid in public forums. And Poilievre will presumably be joined by Lisa Raitt, who will be Scheer's deputy leader.

What's in a name?

Making Morneau's life difficult will be a significant part of the job. Looking the part of a future finance minister is another.

"Our shadow ministers are united, energized, and diverse," Scheer declared in a statement Wednesday. "We are going to arrive in Ottawa in the fall with one clear message to Canadians: That we are ready to form the next Government of Canada."

Diversity is not this group's strong suit: opposite the gender-balanced cabinet, Scheer's team is predominantly male. 

Scheer found a spot in the shadow cabinet for former leadership rival Maxime Bernier, although not the finance role Bernier wanted. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

But the use of the term "shadow minister" is interesting.

In Canada, a cabinet minister's Opposition counterpart is typically referred to as a critic. But in Britain, and other Westminster parliaments, shadow minister is the preferred term.

Shadow minister certainly suggests a greater degree of seriousness and if we are to adopt the same language here, it might be on the expectation that these shadow ministers will act as something more than critics.

That is, that they might present alternative proposals and solutions more readily, instead of merely criticizing. 

The Conservative Party's policy convention isn't until next August, but it's never too early to demonstrate that the government-in-waiting has some new ideas about what it might do if it gets into office.

Power Panel - Supriya, Brad and Tim discuss 10:40

About the Author

Aaron Wherry

Parliament Hill Bureau

Aaron Wherry has covered Parliament Hill since 2007 and has written for Maclean's, the National Post and the Globe and Mail.


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