New faces, but stability key in Harper cabinet shuffle

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says continuity was key as he named his new cabinet, keeping some heavyweights in their old jobs.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper sits with Gov. Gen. David Johnston, front row centre, and members of the federal cabinet following a swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall, May 18, 2011. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)


  • Baird, Paradis, Clement move to new portfolios
  • Flaherty, Moore, Kenney, Oda among those staying put
  • New faces include Peter Penashue, Alice Wong and Joe Oliver
  • Larry Smith, Fabian Manning and Josee Verner appointed to Senate

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's first majority cabinet includes nine new members, three of whom are new to Parliament, but mostly the shuffle announced Wednesday keeps heavyweight ministers in their old jobs.

Harper said he had to make some significant changes because of the vacancies caused by two retirements and four election losses, but that his new cabinet is "fundamentally about stability and continuity."

Speaking to reporters shortly after the cabinet was sworn in at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Harper said the roster of talent he had to choose from was deeper than ever before.

"There are promising new MPs and many veterans deserving of promotions," the prime minister said. "I believe this ministry represents the right mix of experience and new blood at this time."

Harper said his government's top priority is the economy and that he's assembled a team that will move Canada toward even greater prosperity. They are ready to "hit the ground running," he said.

The prime minister said he wanted to make as few changes as possible to the cabinet and that MPs who didn't make the cut this time will still have opportunities to serve in other roles and gain more political experience, he said.

"We'll have great bench strength for the future development of our government," Harper said.

New roles for some key players

The prime minister tapped John Baird as the new foreign affairs minister to fill the vacancy left by Lawrence Cannon, who was defeated in the May 2 election.

Baird is a trusted member of Harper's cabinet and has filled various roles within it since he was first appointed in 2006, including environment minister, transport minister, president of the treasury board, and most recently, House leader. He was not rumoured to be in the running for foreign affairs minister, so his new posting comes as a surprise.

"I think I have a strong and varied skill set. I fight hard for what I believe in," Baird said following the ceremony, presided over by Gov. Gen. David Johnston. "I will be fighting hard for things like freedom, things like democracy, things like human rights and the rule of law.

Asked about the five Libyan diplomats  being expelled from Canada, he said he's only been on the job for little more than an hour and has yet to be briefed on the matter.

The other significant change is Tony Clement moving to Treasury Board, where he will preside over cuts to the civil service, which the government has said can be made mostly through attrition.

Peter Van Loan is reprising his old role as leader of the government in the House of Commons, taking over from Baird. And Innu leader-turned-MP Peter Penashue is becoming minister of intergovernmental affairs.

The rookie MP adds representation to the cabinet from Newfoundland and Labrador. The other rookie MPs joining him at the cabinet table are Bal Gosal as minister of state for sport, and Joe Oliver, who takes over as natural resources minister.

Dénis Lebel, previously the minister of state for the economic development for Quebec, got a promotion and is the new transport minister. Conservative backbencher Ed Fast also moves into cabinet for the first time, taking over International Trade. Tim Uppal is another new face to the cabinet, as the minister of state for democratic reform.

Other highlights:

  • Peter MacKay stays as minister of defence.
  • Rob Nicholson remains justice minister.
  • Vic Toews will remain public safety minister. 
  • Rona Ambrose stays in charge of Public Works and Government Services, as well as Status of Women.
  • Embattled minister Bev Oda stays at the Canadian International Development Agency.
  • Jim Flaherty will remain finance minister.
  • Jason Kenney will continue to lead Citizenship and Immigration.
  • James Moore will stay at Canadian Heritage.
  • Leona Aglukkaq will remain minister of health.
  • Peter Kent stays minister of environment.
  • Lisa Raitt stays minister of labour.
  • Gerry Ritz remains with Agriculture
  • Gail Shea moves to National Revenue from Fisheries and Oceans
  • Keith Ashfield takes over Fisheries from his previous role as national revenue minister.
  • Maxime Bernier returns to cabinet as minister of state for small business.

New faces in cabinet

The prime minister has brought new blood to cabinet by appointing former backbenchers and rookie MPs. Some of the new faces:

Steven Blaney (Lévis-Bellechasse), Minister of Veterans Affairs

Bal Gosal (Bramalea-Gore-Malton), Minister of State for Sport

Joe Oliver (Eglinton-Lawrence), Minister of Natural Resources

Peter Penashue (Labrador), Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Tim Uppal (Edmonton-Sherwood Park), Minister of State for Democratic Reform

Alice Wong (Richmond), Minister of State for Seniors

View an interactive graphic on the new cabinet or view the full cabinet list.

There was speculation that Kenney would move to Foreign Affairs and while he is staying at Immigration, he does have some added responsibilities. Harper has made him chair of the cabinet committee on operations, the second-most important cabinet committee after the priorities and planning committee, chaired by the prime minister.

The operations committee co-ordinates the government's overall agenda, management and communications. It was previously led by Jim Prentice, who quit politics last fall. Baird had been filling in since then. 

Julian Fantino has a new job in the cabinet, as associate minister of national defence. He will be assigned the defence procurement file from within the minister's portfolio. That will include Canada's controversial F-35 fighter jet purchase.

"Associate Minister Fantino will assist Minister MacKay in delivering platforms for the men and women in uniform who need them — in a manner that benefits Canadian industry and at the best cost for Canadian taxpayers," said Jay Paxton, a spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

"I'm proud and honoured to be serving on the team," Fantino said as he left Rideau Hall. He said he was on his way to be briefed on what exactly his new role entails. 

Flaherty emerged from Rideau Hall with his family and told reporters he would be introducing virtually the same budget as he did in March, but would not confirm what new additions it might include. It will be delivered in June but he gave no clues as to when.

Parliament is beginning its new session on June 2. The finance minister said he is happy to have more ministers joining him from the GTA. 

The new cabinet also brings a new name for the department formerly known as Indian Affairs and Northern Development. It will now be called Aboriginal Affairs, a move to be more inclusive, according to government officials. "Indian" tends to refer to status Indians, as opposed to non-status Indians, while "Aboriginal" refers to First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.

But not everyone is happy with that change. Ron Evans, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, says the province's executive Council of Chiefs will be discussing the change.

"The government may state that this change does not affect its legal relationship with First Nations that is affirmed through treaties and the Constitution, but it looks like a symbolic movement away from our distinct cultures and people," he said in a statement. 

Election created vacancies

Including the prime minister, the new cabinet is made up of 39 members, one more than the previous one.

Harper had six vacancies to fill because of two retirements — Chuck Strahl and Stockwell Day did not run for re-election — and four election defeats.

Josée Verner, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Gary Lunn and Cannon all lost their seats. Harper's office announced shortly after the cabinet shuffle that Verner is getting a Senate appointment, along with Larry Smith and Fabian Manning, who had resigned their Senate seats to run unsuccessfully for the House of Commons.

Harper had only five MPs to choose from in Quebec and two of them were already in cabinet — Lebel and Paradis — which may have had something to do with the decision to bring Maxime Bernier back into the inner circle to help boost Quebec's representation. The former foreign affairs minister resigned in 2008 after leaving confidential documents at his girlfriend's residence.

While pickings were slim in Quebec, there was no shortage of cabinet candidates from Alberta and Ontario.

Rookie MPs Joe Oliver and Bal Gosal are among those new cabinet members from the Toronto area. Oliver defeated long-time Liberal MP Joe Volpe in the central Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, helping the Conservatives crack into the Liberal stronghold in Canada's biggest city. His inclusion in cabinet means Toronto will finally be represented in Harper's cabinet, along with Gosal who represents Bramalea-Gore-Malton.


What do you think of the new cabinet? Take our survey.

In addition to geographic representation, Harper also had to be attuned to how many women he included in his cabinet. The new cabinet, like the previous one has 10 women, including Senator Marjory LeBreton, who is leader of the government in the Senate.

CHAT RECAP: Cabinet shuffle ticker

CBC journalists shared their views on the cabinet shuffle and took your questions and comments. Read the archive of the chat.