Back when Maxime Bernier took his leave, there was much hueing and crying about the Prime Minister’s promoting an unqualified—but pretty—MP to the front of the government’s benches. Of course, the outrage of this only holds if you assume that Mr. Bernier was advanced ahead of several more qualified peers. And that is a dubious claim at best.
Not, of course, that Max wasn’t completely unqualified and ill-suited to the Foreign Affairs portfolio. Let there be no debate on that. He was, by various accounts, a failure from the start.
But is surely not coincidence that the PM’s most respected minister at this point is the one he lifted directly from the Liberal side after the last election. It is David Emerson who’s been quietly signing free trade deals with a dozen little countries. It is David Emerson who heads the war cabinet. It is David Emerson who does not generally make a habit of insulting the population’s intelligence. And, according to several reports, it is David Emerson who will fully control Foreign Affairs after tomorrow morning’s visit to Rideau.
The press gallery has its favourites when the discussion turns to who next to promote (Moore! Rajotte! Ablonczy!), but is it not a fair assumption that if truly special talents lurked unappreciated in the government backbenches, this Prime Minister, whatever his faults, would find a way to showcase them? Or are we to believe that he’s so enamoured of the bunch he’s got that he’s hesitant to disrupt their collective magic?
(If you want to throw theories around about the Prime Minister’s thought process, here’s one: events demonstrate that his preference is to keep a number of expendable pawns around—Moore, Van Loan, Poilievre, Guergis, Obhrai, Kenney—to put in front of whatever crisis or scandal should emerge, thereby protecting the more prominent ministers—Flaherty, Prentice, MacKay, Baird—from firsthand exposure. So what his side lacks in individual talent, he compensates for by spreading the responsibility and blame. Quantity over quality, as it were. It’s been said that stepping forward a la Moore or Van Loan tends to impress the boss. Whether that makes it worth it is perhaps a personal decision for the honourable member so selflessly dishonoured.)
The more fun game then, at least for tonight and tomorrow, might be wondering who else the Prime Minister might draft from the other sides. All purely hypothetical, of course. (Except maybe for Jack Layton, who spent the last couple weeks of this session actively campaigning for a spot in the Harper government.)
For instance, wouldn’t someone like the NDP’s Joe Comartin make a decent cabinet minister? How about the Bloc’s Serge Menard in Justice? Or Vivian Barbot heading Status of Women?
You could pick a few obvious ministers from the Liberal side—Ignatieff, Rae, Goodale—but what about getting Keith Martin to cross over and become health minister? Or Derek Lee for public safety?
For all sorts of reasons—partisan and otherwise—few would be willing to desert their party. But then for all sorts of reasons—there are, after all, only so many backbenchers left to be sacrificed—the PM may yet have to get creative in filling his cabinet.