February 7, 2006


Harper forgets why he won (JAMES TRAVERS, 2/07/06, Toronto Star)

Harper is Prime Minister today because voters imposed change. Over almost 13 years, Liberal ethics became an oxymoron and entitlement a repeating embarrassment that made taxpayers nauseous.

So it's disturbing that among the good and bad choices that are always part of cabinet compromises are two ugly enough to suggest it's business as usual. Emerson's switch is as rich in cynicism as it is in benefits for Harper. But the elevation of Fortier from the Conservative backroom to both the unaccountable Senate and the cabinet portfolio synonymous with the Quebec sponsorship scandal is, at best, bizarre.

It would be wrong to suggest Fortier, a Montreal financier and lawyer, is anything other than scrupulously honest. Even so, it's uncharacteristically reckless of Harper to reward his 2004 leadership lynchpin and co-chair of this winter's successful Conservative campaign with the high-spending, always controversial public works and government services portfolio.

Sure, drawing a star out of the Liberal orbit settles the score for last year's Belinda Stronach defection. And bringing Emerson and Fortier into cabinet gives Vancouver and Montreal the representation voters didn't deliver. But the precipitous downside is that it doesn't fix Toronto's parallel problem, at least temporarily bashes a hole in Harper's promise to only name elected senators and, most importantly, arches eyebrows about his commitment to scrub the capital clean of cronyism.

That's not just disappointing, it's a shame.

Harper's decisions flow from political calculations that attracting talented ministers and building a big-city base justify short-term discomfort. Time may prove him shrewd. Meanwhile, his lustrous new administration no longer shines so brightly and other more promising decisions aren't getting the attention they deserve.

With the assistance of former Brian Mulroney adviser Derek Burney, the new Prime Minister got a lot right. By tapping talent from the Paul Martin, Mulroney, Mike Harris, Ralph Klein and Robert Bourassa administrations, Harper has a cabinet where about one in three ministers have federal or provincial experience. That matters.

The American press and punditocracy likewise gets itself all in a lather because it can't understand that George W. Bush isn't just trying to govern effectively but to make the GOP a permanent majority again after 70 years of Democratic power.

Strategic moves: Cabinet will give Conservatives maximum strength and impact (Paul Jackson, 2/07/06, Calgary Sun)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has now slashed the federal cabinet by 25%, thereby immediately increasing its effectiveness and efficiency, and hopefully giving a warning to the Liberal-dominated bureaucratic elite this is going to be a no-nonsense government.

It's clear Harper's cabinet make-up is aimed partly at building support in Ontario and Quebec for the next federal election -- with an eye on picking up 40 more seats in those two provinces -- but let's look at the other messages the Calgary MP's line-up sends.

On foreign affairs, defence and national security, the Harper administration is going to rebuild our relations with Washington, and have our country start pulling its weight in the war against Islamic terrorism.

Nova Scotia MP Peter Mac-Kay's father Elmer was a big player in Brian Mulroney's move to get a free-trade pact with the U.S., but aside from the days of reckless antagonism to Washington being over, so is that of the anti-Israel battalion in Canada's sick delegation to the UN.

Liberal defence minister Bill Graham -- effete fellow that he is -- never served a day in the military. Our new defence minister, Gordon O'Connor, wore a uniform for 33 years.

We have not seen qualifications like this in 50 years.

Harper's cabinet: 26 Conservatives and a Liberal
(BRIAN LAGHI AND GLORIA GALLOWAY, 2/07/06, Globe and Mail)
[M]r. Harper raised eyebrows by moving to patch the holes of Conservative representation in urban Canada with a younger, smaller cabinet that includes one unelected minister and a Liberal defector.

David Emerson, the MP for Vancouver-Kingsway and industry minister in the previous Liberal government, switched parties and was sworn in yesterday morning as Mr. Harper's International Trade Minister.

Montreal financier and Conservative Party organizer Michael Fortier, who holds no elected office, was sworn in as Minister of Public Works. Tory sources said he would soon be appointed to the Senate, where he will have to take questions from opposition parties.

The two men were appointed after Mr. Harper failed to win seats in Montreal and Vancouver in the Jan. 23 election. The Conservatives also did not win any seats in Toronto, but said MPs from around Canada's largest city would represent it more than adequately.

Mr. Harper advocates an elected Senate, although he said yesterday that he had left the door open during the election campaign to make appointments in the event of a lack of regional representation. "Montreal is a very important city for Canada and for my government," he said.

Mr. Fortier said he has a lot to offer the government despite attaining his post through appointment rather than election.

"I believe I am more than a Conservative organizer," he said. "Montreal needs a voice in this cabinet and will do this."

Mr. Harper said he believes it's in the best interest of Vancouverites who voted for Mr. Emerson to have him in cabinet.

"I don't think he should view this as Conservative versus Liberal. I think David Emerson is quite comfortable in our party."

Mr. Emerson said he decided to join the Conservatives after asking himself where he could be more helpful to the people of his riding and his province -- and only after being approached by Mr. Harper.

"It was not a matter of me deciding before the election that I was going to jump across, I had no intention of doing so," he said, adding that if Paul Martin had won the election he would "absolutely" still be a Liberal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 7, 2006 6:55 AM

26 Conservatives and a Liberal -- reverse that and you get what the left considers The Fairness Doctrine.

Posted by: erp at February 7, 2006 10:10 AM