New Brunswick

Fredericton MP Ashfield lands in ACOA in surprise cabinet post

Newly elected Fredericton MP Keith Ashfield is a surprise addition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's second cabinet.

Newly elected Fredericton MP Keith Ashfield is a surprise addition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's second cabinet.

Ashfield, who served as a natural resources minister under one-time premier Bernard Lord, is Canada's new minister of state for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Ashfield's appointment comes as a surprise because New Brunswick normally only has one minister in the federal cabinet.

Tom Bateman, a political scientist at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, said Ashfield's selection is a sign that the prime minister is rewarding New Brunswick for sending more Tory timber to Ottawa to contribute in the cabinet-making process.

"There is a political message in this cabinet appointment, but it is also perhaps a reflection of the stated need for a sharp, competent cabinet, and Mr. Ashfield's experience ought to help that principle."

Bateman said ACOA could be a launching point for Ashfield's federal career if he brings the same steady leadership to that office that he did when he was a New Brunswick cabinet minister.

"We'll have to see what sort of performance Mr. Ashfield will put in and this could be the first rung on the ladder," Bateman said.

Business New Brunswick Minister Greg Byrne said Ashfield is acutely aware of some of the projects that are a top priority for the province because he has served in the legislature.

"At the end of the day, when you put politics aside, we want the same thing and that is to improve the opportunities for New Brunswickers," Byrne said. "ACOA is a very important economic development partner for our government. It is great news that we [in New Brunswick] are going to have the minister responsible for ACOA in the cabinet."

A 1-2 punch in N.B.

New Brunswick tilted considerably to the Conservatives in the recent election, doubling the Tory caucus to six MPs.

Ashfield joins New Brunswick Southwest MP Greg Thompson, who remains minister of Veterans Affairs. Thompson served as the province's sole cabinet minister before the Oct. 14 general election.

Byrne said the Liberal government had a solid working relationship with Thompson and he is confident New Brunswick issues will have a strong voice in Ottawa with two ministers in cabinet.

Ashfield turned Fredericton to the Conservative column for the first time since 1993 by winning 42 per cent of the vote over Liberal candidate David Innes. Fredericton had been dominated by Liberal Andy Scott, cabinet minister under Prime Ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.

Ashfield was considered a strong candidate for the Conservatives because aside from his cabinet experience, he was a well-respected member of the Opposition caucus and had been considered a possible interim leader after Lord stepped aside.