Harper faces cabinet gaps

With Parliament expected to return to work at the end of May, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will have openings to fill after losing several cabinet ministers on election night.
Chuck Strahl, foreground, has retired from politics, but John Baird, middle, will be back and likely kept in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new cabinet. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))

With Parliament expected to return to work at the end of May, Canadians could soon see a new cabinet in charge of the country.

While the Conservatives are returning to the House of Commons with a majority government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will have openings to fill — notably that of Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.

Harper also lost lower-profile ministers, with Jean-Pierre Blackburn,  Josée Verner  and Gary Lunn all going down in their ridings.

"He has some significant holes to fill because as sweet as the victory was yesterday, there will be some gaps around the cabinet table," said Goldy Hyder, a Conservative strategist.

It's impossible to know who Harper may have in mind for his new cabinet, but Hyder says he suspects the cabinet may not change much before the summer.

Not only will Harper will have to fill the gaps left by losses, but also by the retirements of Treasury Board President Stockwell Day and Transport Minister Chuck Strahl. However, the prime minister can wait until the fall to make a major shuffle.

He does have some interesting prospects to choose from.

The name of Chris Alexander — the former ambassador to Afghanistan who defeated high-profile Liberal Mark Holland in the Ontario riding of Ajax-Pickering — is surfacing in much of the speculation about new cabinet picks.

Both Joe Oliver, who won Liberal Joe Volpe's Eglinton-Lawrence seat, and John Williamson, who took New Brunswick-Southwest, have financial credentials that could help in a government focused on the economy, as Harper promises his will be.

Oliver has run both the Ontario Securities Commission and the Investment Dealers Association of Canada, while Williamson has a master's in economic history from the London School of Economics, and is a former head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation..

Kellie Leitch, a pediatric surgeon who beat former Conservative MP Helena Guergis in Simcoe-Grey, Ont., would make an interesting choice for the health file. She would also bump up the number of women in a male-dominated cabinet.

The Quebec losses also could mean a return to cabinet for Maxime Bernier, who was fired from the foreign affairs portfolio after leaving confidential documents at his girlfriend's home. Bernier is considered to have been strong in the industry file he held prior to foreign affairs.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Government House Leader John Baird and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews all won their seats and are likely to remain at the cabinet table.