Harper sworn in as 22nd prime minister

Stephen Harper was sworn in as Canada's 22nd prime minister on Monday, 14 days after his party's narrow victory paved the way for the country's first Conservative government since 1993.

Stephen Harper was sworn in as Canada's 22nd prime minister on Monday, 14 days after his party's narrow victory paved the way for the first Conservative government since 1993. He later said Parliament would reconvene on April 3.

"It is a great honour and a feeling of great responsibility to be sworn in as the 22nd prime minister of Canada," said Harper during an outdoor news conference following the swearing-in ceremony at the Governor General's official residence in Ottawa on Monday morning.

He named a 27-member cabinet, including himself, down from the 39 that Paul Martin named in 2004. The average age of the new cabinet is just under 51.

"I've assembled a smaller cabinet, but one I believe is more focused and more effective," said Harper, adding that the new ministers are "talented and diversified, and reflect Canada."

There are six women in Harper's cabinet, including Rona Ambrose and Bev Oda. Noticeably absent is outspoken Calgary MP Diane Ablonczy, one of 14 Conservative women who were elected.

Harper appointed five representatives from Quebec as well as party veterans Stockwell Day, Monte Solberg, Chuck Strahl and Peter MacKay.

There are nine MPs in cabinet from Ontario, and 10 from the West – four from Alberta, four from B.C. and one each from Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Harper appointed three from the Atlantic provinces. Prince Edward Island was shut out from cabinet, having elected no Tory MPs, but MacKay will act as government minister responsible for the Island.

Prominent cabinet postings include: (see full list at right)

  • Foreign Affairs - Peter MacKay. The former deputy Opposition leader and Nova Scotia MP has also served as House leader and justice critic.
  • Heritage - Bev Oda. The Ontario MP served as Harper's critic for heritage. She's Canada's first parliamentarian of Japanese heritage.
  • Finance - Jim Flaherty. A former Ontario finance minister, Flaherty is a lawyer by trade.
  • Health - Tony Clement. Served as health minister under former Ontario premiers Mike Harris and Ernie Eves.
  • Industry - Maxime Bernier. A star MP from Quebec, Bernier is a lawyer and prominent businessman.
  • Justice - Vic Toews. The Manitoba MP has been the province's justice and labour minister.
  • Human Resources and Social Development - Diane Finley. The Ontario MP was first elected as MP in 2004 and served as the agriculture critic.
  • Labour - Jean-Pierre Blackburn. The Quebec MP is a businessman, college instructor and public relations consultant.
  • Transport - Lawrence Cannon. Quebec MP is a former Liberal cabinet minister and has served as Harper's deputy chief of staff
There were two surprises in Harper's cabinet:
  • Former Liberal cabinet minister David Emerson as international trade minister.
  • Michael Fortier, Harper's national campaign co-chair. Fortier, who is not elected, will serve as minister of public works and government services.

Emerson's defection from the Liberals was made public on Monday, boosting the Conservative party's seat count to 125 and dropping the Liberals to 102.

Harper didn't name a deputy prime minister, but did appoint Calgary MP Jason Kenney as parliamentary secretary to the prime minister.

The new cabinet lost no time in getting to work, holding their first meeting in the afternoon. After, they emerged with several announcements that made good on commitments made during the election campaign.

'Great day': Harper

Accompanied by his wife Laureen and children Rachel and Ben, Harper arrived at Rideau Hall about 10:40 a.m. EST, an hour after former prime minister Martin officially resigned.

Harper smiled as he stepped from a black minivan into the brisk winter air, telling waiting reporters it was a "great day." The new cabinet ministers and their families had arrived earlier in either taxis or their own cars.

The roughly 90-minute swearing-in ceremony began after Harper presented Governor General Michaëlle  Jean with his list of ministers. The procedure ended with an official group cabinet photo just after noon.

There had been much speculation about Harper's choices for cabinet. He had to balance the need to represent gender, regions, minorities and political experience, while keeping an eye to the future. Harper also needed to strike a rural-urban balance after being shut out of three of the country's largest cities – Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

Earlier in the day, Martin briefly visited the Governor General to hand in his resignation. He slipped in about 30 minutes ahead of schedule to take care of the formalities.

He smiled and waved as he left, but didn't make any comment.