More Quebec MPs named to cabinet than expected

Western MPs dominate Stephen Harper's new cabinet, but there were more Quebec representatives than expected as the Tories strove for regional diversity.

Western MPs dominate Stephen Harper's new cabinet, but there were more Quebec representatives than expected as the Tories strove for regional diversity.

However, Ontario holds the most representatives – nine – in the 27-member cabinet, which was sworn in at the Governor General's official residence in Ottawa on Monday morning.

The cabinet also includes five representatives from Quebec, 10 from the West and three from the Atlantic provinces. Prince Edward Island was shut out, having elected no Tory MPs, and will be represented by Nova Scotia MP Peter MacKay. There are also no ministers from the North.

"Obviously I've tried my best within a small cabinet to try to represent all these different balances while at the same time obviously taking into account the skills and experience of individuals," Harper said at a news conference after the swearing-in ceremony.

Quebec cabinet ministers include a surprise choice

Harper had been expected to appoint three or four ministers from Quebec, where the Tories surprised themselves by capturing 10 seats in the January election.

He exceeded expectations by tapping five Quebecers – including a choice that astounded many analysts.

Michael Fortier, an unelected party operative who is one of Harper's key advisers, became the new minister of public works and government services.

In the past, Harper repeatedly said all cabinet ministers should be elected MPs. He told the news conference on Monday that Fortier would be temporarily appointed a senator and then run for a seat in the next federal election.

"We need a cabinet minister from Montreal," Harper said.

Harper honoured a promise made during the election campaign by appointing the party's chief organizer in the province, Lawrence Cannon.

Cannon, who also served as a provincial cabinet minister, takes over the important transport portfolio.

Jean-Pierre Blackburn, who easily won the normally sovereignist Jonquière-Alma riding, has been named labour minister and will also be in charge of economic development for the region.

Maxime Bernier, who comes from the Quebec City area where the Conservatives won most of their 10 seats, steps into the role of industry minister. Louis St-Laurent MP Josée Verner becomes international co-operation minister and minister for la Francophonie and official languages.

Atlantic provinces hold fewer seats than under Liberals

Harper named three Atlantic cabinet ministers, a drop from Paul Martin's Liberal cabinets, which had as many as seven.

The most prominent Atlantic appointment fell to MacKay, who co-founded the Conservative party and served as deputy leader of the Opposition in the last Parliament.

MacKay, who is not a member of Harper's inner circle, takes on the important foreign affairs portfolio.

Former provincial, federal ministers tapped from Ontario

The nine representatives appointed from Ontario include several people with extensive experience in federal or provincial cabinets.

Among them was Robert Nicholson, a Niagara Falls MP with previous experience in federal cabinet whose new duties include government House leader.

Jim Flaherty, a former provincial finance minister, steps into the same federal portfolio, and Tony Clement becomes health minister after serving in the same portfolio under Ontario premiers Mike Harris and Ernie Eves.

4 Albertans on cabinet

The West, long a bastion of Conservative support, contributes 10 MPs to the new cabinet: one from Manitoba, one from Saskatchewan, four from British Columbia and four from Alberta (including Harper, who represents Calgary Southwest).

High-profile MPs among them include:

  • Manitoba MP Vic Toews, who served as justice critic both as a member of the Canadian Alliance and as a Tory MP, was sworn in as justice minister and attorney general.
  • Monte Solberg, a Medicine Hat MP who has been one of the better-known faces of the Conservative party, becomes minister of citizenship and immigration.
  • Calgary MP Jim Prentice, a onetime Tory leadership contender who served as opposition critic for Indian affairs and northern development, takes on several portfolios, including minister of Indian affairs and northern development.
  • Chuck Strahl, a former deputy speaker who represents the B.C. riding of Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon, becomes agriculture minister.

Harper's surprise picks aim at urban gap

Harper also tried to address the rural-urban balance in his cabinet, after voters in the last election shut the Tories out of the country's three biggest cities – Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Former Liberal industry minister David Emerson, who caused ripples of surprise when he jumped ship to become the Conservative minister of international trade, represents the riding of Vancouver-Kingsway.

Montreal was represented by Harper's other cabinet shocker, Fortier.

In a news conference after Monday's ceremony, Harper pointed out that three cabinet ministers – Flaherty, Michael Chong and Beverley Oda – represent ridings in the Toronto area.