Cabinet shuffle in flux in the aftermath of rail tragedy in Quebec

OTTAWA – Stephen Harper’s summer schedule for major political moves appears to have been thwarted yet again by an unforeseen catastrophe.

Conservative sources say a major cabinet shuffle that was initially pencilled in for mid-week has been pushed back, likely to next week, following the rail tragedy in Lac-Megantic, Que., which killed at least 15 people.

The Prime Minister’s Office refuses to say when the shuffle will take place.

A freight train laden with crude oil derailed in the centre of town and exploded into a series of towering fireballs, obliterating a huge swath of the town’s core, including a popular watering hole.

Transport Minister Denis Lebel and Industry Minister Christian Paradis, whose riding encompasses Lac-Megantic, have both been on the scene in recent days.

It’s the second time Conservative plans have been thwarted recently by outside forces: the party’s policy convention was postponed in June following floods in southern Alberta.

Authorities in Quebec are in the process of the difficult work of identifying the dead in the shambles of the town centre, in many cases with little more than dental records and DNA samples to guide them.

Harper was said to be profoundly affected by the extent of the destruction when he visited the site on Sunday.

Last month, Harper was set to deliver a major speech to party members at the convention and offer the first hints of the policy direction he wants the government to take in the fall.

It was to be followed by the cabinet shuffle, which is expected to be a major one that includes a number of new faces. Five cabinet ministers have already signalled they are leaving their portfolios.