One woman is getting a second chance in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s new cabinet while another once thought to be on the fast-track faces a detour through demotion after stumbling through a scandal.
As many as eight to 10 ministers will be on the move in a shuffle on Tuesday that is far more elaborate than the tweak some officials predicted a few days ago, The Canadian Press has learned.
The biggest surprise may be that controversy-prone Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt, once a rising star in the party who rocketed to cabinet within weeks of her first election win in October 2008, is getting demoted.
The high-profile Raitt ran into trouble last year when she was caught on tape criticizing some of her fellow ministers.
Raitt will stay in the cabinet, but in the relatively obscure Labour post.
Public Works Minister Christian Paradis is tabbed to replace Raitt at the department that oversees such hot-button issues as oil sands development and the future of Atomic Energy of Canada.
Current Labour Minister Rona Ambrose, another once high-profile woman who was a disappointment in her first turn at Environment, is getting another chance at a big department with Public Works.
And Trade Minister Stockwell Day will be replaced by Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, with Day headed to Treasury.
Day is a former Alberta finance minister and his move to Treasury puts him in a key position to oversee the government’s future efforts to rein in spending in order to cut into massive multi-billion dollar deficits.
Treasury Board President Vic Toews will move to Public Safety.
Sources say that junior minister Diane Ablonczy, who many consider an under-utilized talent, will be receiving a minor promotion to Minister of State for seniors, a role of growing importance given the aging Canadian population.
Other changes include Jean-Pierre Blackburn, who goes from Revenue to Veterans Affairs, replacing Greg Thompson, who resigned his portfolio over the weekend.
At least one new person will be elevated to cabinet – New Brunswick MP Rob Moore, who will be handed Ablonczy’s vacated Tourism post.
But former Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier, who resigned in embarrassment after leaving sensitive documents at his estranged girlfriend’s home, is not expected to stage a comeback during this cycle.
The shuffle will not involve Harper’s heaviest hitters, including Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Defence Minister Peter MacKay, although there was some discussion of MacKay ceding responsibility for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
MacKay faced relentless opposition attack for his handling of the Afghan detainee file before Parliament was prorogued in December.
Insiders say the shuffle is part of the government’s broader plan to “recalibrate” now that the panic phase of the global financial crisis is over and recovery has shown some tentative signs of taking hold.
But Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff dismissed the changes as cosmetic.
“He can move the faces around but everybody knows this is a Harper government, this is a one-man show,” he said. “I think refreshing a few faces doesn’t reset the button.”
The shuffle also comes at a time when the government needs a distraction from the damaging effects of the pre-New Year’s decision to prorogue Parliament until March 3.
That decision will give the Harper government a chance to fill five vacancies in a Senate and secure control of the Upper Chamber for the first time.
But prorogation came with a price. Polls suggest opposition parties have largely succeeded in portraying the move as an attempt by the Harper government to evade scrutiny over its handling of the Afghan detainee torture allegations.
The prime minister defended the decision, saying the extra time was needed to adjust the government’s policies now that the economy has moved from recession into the recovery phase.
Recent opinion polls have indicated the Conservatives’ double-digit lead over the Liberals has shrunk to a few scant points – and in one case, to a virtual dead-heat.
A government official said the cabinet shuffle at this time gives new ministers time to read briefing books and become acquainted with their new portfolios before the resumption of Parliament in March.