Stephen Harper says no cabinet shuffle until mid-term

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he doesn't foresee any major changes in his government until midway through its majority mandate.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes his way to the stage to address the crowd on Canada Day on Parliament Hill July 1, 2012 in Ottawa. Harper cooled talk of a further cabinet shuffle in a radio interview Wednesday. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

If Prime Minister Stephen Harper has his way, it will be next summer before there are any major changes to his government's front benches.

Speaking on an Alberta radio show Thursday, Harper ruled out both a major cabinet shuffle and prorogation of the House of Commons until the government reaches the halfway point of its majority mandate.

Prorogation is when the legislature "resets" itself with a throne speech and new bills. Harper said he considered the move, but decided against it for the time being.

"I didn't see any reason to do it right now. We've still got a number of pieces of legislation we do want to pass," Harper told host Dave Rutherford, whose show is broadcast provincewide on CHQR and CHED.

"I think what I am more likely to do ... is probably in mid-term — we will probably have a new session mid-term."

Harper said the performance of cabinet ministers will be assessed halfway through his government's mandate and that's when any big changes will be made.

"We'll take a look at how everybody is performing and make some major changes at that point," he said. "But I think between now and then let's keep everybody focused on the job we got elected to do."

Harper's Conservatives won a majority of seats in May 2011 and the fixed-election-date law calls for the next vote in October 2015.

Under the Constitution, the Governor General can dissolve Parliament and call an election at any time and Harper has suggested he is flexible about the fixed date if it conflicts with provincial elections. If the timelines hold, however, the halfway point in the mandate would be August of next year.

Cabinet tweaked

Cabinet shuffle talk heated up this week following the resignation of embattled International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda.

While it was expected that hole might be filled as part of a wide-ranging shakeup, Harper only made a minor tweak.

Associate minister of defence Julian Fantino, the government's front man on the fumbled F-35 fighter jet file, was moved to Oda's spot. Fantino's old duties were handed off to New Brunswick MP Bernard Valcourt, minister of state for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay was one of the ministers thought to be up for a change this summer as he's also been dogged by the controversy over fighter-jet spending.

But Harper said MacKay isn't going anywhere.

"We're right in the middle of a whole lot of important initiatives that we launched right after the campaign and I want to see our ministers focused on those things and carrying them through."

Moving forward, Harper said the economy will be his government's top priority.

"The country, as you know, like the whole rest of the world, has been through a very difficult period with the economic crisis of '08-'09. We've come out of that well," he said.

"What we've said our goal is now, is not just to make sure we continue to come out of it, but that this country does not face the problems that we're seeing in Europe, the United States and Japan — that rather than being one of these old economic powers that's in trouble, we want to make sure we join the club of the emerging economic powers."