This year’s models

by Aaron Wherry

Welcome to live coverage of this morning’s cabinet shuffle, wherein we find out which backbenchers we have to pretend to take more seriously for the next little while.

There’s been a steady stream of Conservatives arriving at Rideau Hall and the Prime Minister is due shortly. So far we seem only to know for sure that John Baird will be the next Foreign Affairs Minister. Presumably he will be counted on to bluster away opposition criticism of the government’s international endeavours, charm foreign officials and periodically convene breathless news conferences to report the latest breathtaking developments in our make-believe war with Russia. Presumably he’ll do fine. His image problem notwithstanding.

10:45am. Our Andrew Coyne is already deeply disappointed with all of this. Follow his Twitter feed this morning to watch his head explode repeatedly.

10:52am. The Prime Minister has now arrived. The swearing in is to commence in about 20 minutes.

11:04am. CTV reports a 39-member ministry, which equals an all-time high mark. Welcome to the new era of smaller government.

11:07am. Peter Van Loan apparently goes back to House leader. Welcome to the new era of non-partisan Harper governance.

11:14am. The 28th ministry is now filing in to Rideau’s ballroom. Tony Clement moves from Industry to Treasury Board. Christian Paradis goes from Natural Resources to Industry. Gail Shea moves to National Revenue. Ed Fast gets International Trade. Maxime Bernier becomes minister of state for small business and tourism.

11:21am. Bev Oda might not be trusted sufficiently to speak on her own behalf, but she remains Minister of International Cooperation.

11:23am. Many of the most prominent ministers keep their spots, including Peter MacKay (Defence), Rob Nicholson (Justice), Jason Kenney (Immigration), James Moore (Heritage), Diane Finley (Human Resources) and Vic Toews (Public Safety).

11:30am. Having previously been responsible for the funding of gazebos and public toilets, Mr. Clement will now presumably play a key role in finding billions in departmental savings.

11:35am. Of the rookies, Joe Oliver gets natural resources, Peter Penashue gets intergovernmental affairs and Bal Gosal gets sport. Bernard Valcourt, newly elected, but a formerly a cabinet minister under Brian Mulroney, gets the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

11:41am. Julian Fantino is now the associate minister for national defence. Presuming Laurie Hawn remains parliamentary secretary to the minister of national defence, the department now has three members of caucus assigned to it.

11:46am. There seem to be two outright demotions: Rob Moore (formerly the minister of state for small business and tourism) and Rob Merrifield (formerly the minister of state for transport). Both are missing from the new list.

11:50am. Bill Curry notes that Indian Affairs is now Aboriginal Affairs. Probably an overdue change.

12:00pm. Tim Uppal is the new minister of state for democratic reform. If I read the roll call correctly, he voted in favour of Michael Chong’s motion to launch a committee study of Question Period reform. With Parliament’s dissolution, Mr. Chong has to start all over, unless, say, the government wants to take up the cause. Indeed, that might make a good first question for Mr. Uppal: Is he interested in moving forward with a study of those proposed changes? In fact, it might make a good project for the new government and the new official opposition to pursue together.

12:06pm. The move of Mr. Clement to Treasury Board might protect him from having to take opposition questions when the Auditor General’s report into G8 spending is tabled next month, but the combination of that report and Mr. Clement’s new responsibility for austerity offers the official opposition a first opportunity to mock this government’s coherence.

12:24pm. CBC’s coverage has moved on to the existential question of “how much freedom will ministers have?” In other words, does any of this really matter? What are we doing here? Are we all just wasting our time? Think about it too much and you just end up like the people in Radiohead’s video for Just.

12:35pm. The Prime Minister and his cabinet have posed for their sizeable family photo and Mr. Harper will soon be turning up to entertain a few select questions from the press gallery.

12:45pm. And here he is. “Economy … economic recovery … economy … stability … economy … economic growth … stability … hockey.”

12:51pm. First question: What about Peter Penashue’s new job and how come Chris Alexander didn’t get a job? Mr. Harper is delighted to have Mr. Penashue on the team and he is delighted with his side’s new bench strength. What about Libya? There will be a House debate in June apparently. What about the IMF? Obviously the situation is very difficult, but not going to comment on the “legal matters” concerning “this particular individual.” Why do you need 39 people? Government has reduced ministerial budgets, but still need a cabinet that is broad and uses talent to the maximum. Very difficult apparently to pick just 39 people. It would be a mistake to go with a smaller cabinet that didn’t use people’s talents.

12:57pm. A few more words about the economy and that’s that. Jack Layton is scheduled to speak on the Hill at 2pm. The Liberal leader is scheduled to speak sometime in 2013. But now, lunch.

This year’s models

  1. Harper will be foreign minister. Baird has had great training as second fiddle as House Leader, and Laureen escort to fancy galas. When the big guy comes on the scene, he’ll fade into the background like Roy Rogers jesting sidekick..

  2.  Oh not only Coyne’s head is exploding, there is quite a few…

  3.  Tony Clement moves from Industry to Treasury Board.
    something about foxes and hen houses…..

  4. Welcome to the new era of smaller government.

    Is there some necessary correlation between the number of cabinet seats and the overall size of the government, of which I’m unaware?  I mean, other than the extra pay for who would otherwise be regular MPs, couldn’t you have a government with 40 cabinet seats that is in aggregate “smaller” (i.e. less total staff, less total budgets, etc.) than a government with 20 cabinet seats?  As in, couldn’t a combined Finance/Treasury Board Ministry (under, say, a Layton government) be “larger” than two separate ministries under a fiscally conservative government (no examples come to mind at present)?

    I would hate for AC’s head to explode for merely symbolic reasons…

    • Government is larger both because you now have more people to report to and that, in creating a new minister, you’re also creating a new ministry – subdividing existing resources out and adding overhead in the form of intermediaries required to act as go-betweens for the existing bureaucracy and the new minister.

      Furthermore, when Conservatives talk about creating “smaller” government, they’re generally not talking about creating smaller units within it. They’re talking about less people working for it/in the way. Adding to overhead so you can have a bunch of token positions is doing the exact opposite of that.

      • I think you’re kinda missing my point.  Hypothetically, imagine scenario A: a single Ministry of Finance/Treasury Board with 1 minister, 6 deputy ministers, and 100 staff members.  Scenario B: two separate Ministries, each with 1 minister, 1 deputy minister, and 25 staff members, including 2 liaisons to go between them (dreaded overhead!).  In the latter “Big Government” scenario, you have 2 ministers, but fewer deputy ministers and far fewer staff members.  

        All I’m saying is that there’s no necessary connection between the number of ministers and the “size” of government; so if we’re concerned about spending, what does it matter which Minister’s name is on the cheque?  And if we’re concerned with aggregate numbers of public service employees, wouldn’t it make more sense to talk about that and not precisely to whom they report?

        •  But you’re just making up numbers. Why would two separate ministries be able to do the same work as a combined ministry with half the grunts?

          • But you’re just making up numbers.

            Yes, that’s how hypotheticals work.

            Why would two separate ministries be able to do the same work as a combined ministry with half the grunts?

            Isn’t that the corollary of my point?  Why would one ministry split exactly in half somehow (automatically) lead to “big government”?  Because now the titular head of each half is called a minister, instead of a deputy minister?  This is my entire problem with using “size of cabinet” as a proxy for “size of government” when we can easily measure size of government.

      • Government is larger both because you now have more people to report to

        I don’t get this argument – I mean, if we just clumped every economic portfolio under one Ministry, you can believe that Ministry would have far more deputy ministers than each of the Ministries separately. Before the creation of each new subdivided ministry, was there a raft of public servants efficiently working away and reporting to no one?

        Everyone in the public service has to report to someone eventually, except Harper, who reports only to God.

        • Let’s say it’s not sending the right signal.  A smaller cabinet, and pay cuts, would be appropriate.  His predecessors have done it – if memory serves, Chrétien froze MPs salaries, until the return to balanced budget at which point they handsome raise. Parliament, the new God? 

    • According to the Harper government, there is a correlation between the number of cabinet seats and efficiency and competence of government:

      “The character of the new government is one that is streamlined in numbers and in structure,” said Derek Burney, a former chief of staff to prime minister Brian Mulroney and a former CEO with Bell Canada International.
      “Its objective is results,” he said, pointing out the cabinet had one-third fewer members than Paul Martin’s – 27 as compared to 39.
      “That in itself will represent savings of between $15 and $20 million a year – and that’s for cabinet alone. We would expect to see other savings to follow.”
      The number of cabinet committees was reduced to six from 10.
      “This was all intended to provide greater focus, more purpose, less process, less cost,” Burney told reporters, describing the cabinet as having “a flat line of equivalence” since there is no deputy prime minister and no junior ministers.
      “It’s a cabinet that’s built for work, not for show.
      “More clarity will give us more discipline in terms of results,” he said, pointing out the Conservative government has restored some of the departments that were divided by the Martin regime.
      Thus, Human Resources and Social Development were reunited.
      “The objective is to enable ministers in the cabinet to do what they promised to do within the constraints of a minority government,” Burney said.
      “The most precious commodity for any government is the Prime Minister’s time,” Burney said, adding the aim of a smaller cabinet is to create a system that “encourages informed discussion and clear decisions and discourages procrastination.”
       

      •  Well, since I can’t conceive of an ulterior motive that Derek Burney may have had to applaud the design of Canada’s New Government, it must be true. 

      • Well, Harper has gotten himself up to the magic number of 39 now.  He just explained it in the press conference as utilizing all the talent he  has.  Given his management (micro) style this doesn’t pass the giggle test.   

    • each additional minister means one more member of the Cabinet whose primary reason for being is to push to maintain and increase resources for his/her mandate, definitely makes cutting more difficult for the Alamo-outnumbered Finance Minister and Treasury Board President. Not impossible, but more difficult.

      • That’s a fair point.  I mean, I get that more ministers is likely to lead to bigger government, for any number of economic, sociological, bureaucratic, or metaphysical reasons that you and Random Output and Derek Burney can point out.   I just think it’s a rather imprecise proxy measure, when we can just look at the size of the budget and the public service directly. 

  5. My guess was Baird for foreign affairs just because he is the “John of all trades” so to speak – too much going on right now to give it to a rooky.  You have to admit that he has been behaving more like a Labrador Retriever than a Pitt Bull lately. 

  6.  Not big surprises, I was happy to see some of the ministers stay like MacKay, Kenney and Moore, Andrew’s head is gone for sure, 39 Ministers in this cabinet, tied with Mulroney.

  7. A very disappointing cabinet. Besides the size, really don’t like Clement at TB, probably especially after the AG report officially comes out, and really REALLY don’t like Paradis at Industry with all the black clouds hanging around him from the ATIP problems in his office. Why is Bev Oda back? Is she really a better choice than Chris Alexander, who has been passed over? No promotion for Kenney or Moore? And why exactly do we need a Minister of Defence, an Associate Minister of Defence, and a Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defence? Pretty soon cabinet itself will be the defence department.

    • why exactly do we need a Minister of Defence, an Associate Minister of
      Defence, and a Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defence?
      Pretty soon cabinet itself will be the defence department

      Perhaps they’re already planning for all of the time they’re going to need to explain to Canadians how our $75 million a piece fighter jets ended up costing us almost twice that.  And then explaining why we’re going to take delivery four years later than promised.

      • There’s that, and there’s also the very real need to flank McKay at all times, just in case he decides to frown when the order is to smile and stuff.  You don’t wear a baseball cap and get away with it, although Harper can show he kept the obvious promise of keeping McKay at defence. 

      • LKO;  Come on, SH spent most of the campaign explaining that there were dangers lurking/washing up on our shores.  If you really need the “exact” answer:

        pirates.

    • I have to agree about Chris Alexander? I am sorely disappointed but I am sure harper has plans for him, my bet with Bev Oda is that she is going to stay for a while and then get shuffled, he owes her one!

    • RE Clement as TB President, happened to overhear someone nattering on CBC about how his decision to turn the LF Census into the more costly National Household Survey is an “example of his ability to say ‘no’”…

      also, what in the heck is an “Associate Minister”?  Someone noticed that the bureaucracy gets to have “Associate Deputy Ministers” and got jealous?

  8. Harper has never been about small govt. If he was he’d work to abolish the Senate, not elect it.

    Electing it just means more money, more offices and more campaigns….plus the gridlock the American system gets.

    And the govt has done a lot of hiring even from a minority position…so the size of the cabinet is not surprising.

  9. Is Chris Alexander in cabinet?  It saddens me to think they actually had somebody qualified for a post and didn’t give it to him.  

    • Well you can’t just toss a competent person into the mix, that would just confuse everyone.

      “What does he mean “Operation Census Fiasco” may provoke a backlash?  That can’t possibly be…”

    • No no no no. That’s NOT how it works. Chris actually went out in the world and proved himself so there’s NO place for him in cabinet. Also, he was kinda outside the country too long :)

      Better to keep Gazebo Tony and the Minister of Finance and Ambulance Chasing in cabinet. 

      Biggest fear is that the Ambulance Chaser now can do real damage in Finance

  10. So Ablonscy is once again a bridesmaid?  She should have run in Quebec. 

    •  for the NDP?

    • Actually she should have run in Quebec, lost and she’d be put in the Senate. 

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