Canadian PM elevates 4 lawmakers in cabinet reshuffle

17:15, January 05, 2011      

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Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during a news conference following a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Jan. 4, 2011. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has returned to work after the holidays by shuffling on Tuesday his cabinet for the third time in a year, appointing a new environment minister and promoting three other Tory MPs. (Xinhua/ Christopher Pike)


In his third cabinet reshuffle in a year, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday named a new environment minister and promoted three other Conservative lawmakers.

Peter Kent, one of Canada's most influential broadcasters until he entered politics two years ago, was appointed as environment minister, replacing John Baird.

Kent was one of the few lawmakers of the ruling Conservative Party who got elected in Toronto, Canada's largest city. Most parliamentary seats representing the city's electoral districts are held by members of opposition Liberal and New Democratic Parties.

The reshuffle also elevated former Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino, who in November won a by-election in a longtime Liberal stronghold in Toronto's suburbs, to the position of the minister of state for seniors, filling the vacancy left by Diane Ablonczy.

Ted Menzies, an Alberta legislator and a former parliamentary secretary to the finance minister, was promoted to minister of state for finance, while Ablonczy was appointed the new minister of state for the Americas.

In an impromptu press conference after the swearing-in of the new ministers by Governor-General David Johnston at his official residence, Harper said the changes were not made with an election in mind.

"I'm not the one threatening an election," Harper said.

Harper said he did not change major economic ministers because he wants to "stay the course with essentially...the team we have continuing to execute the plan to deal with the recession."

He claimed Liberal Party and the two other opposition parties are the ones threatening to bring down the Conservative minority government.

To get their legislation passed in the parliament, the Conservatives need votes from lawmakers from at least one opposition party.

"Canadians have just come through a year during which the rewards of prudent financial stewardship, and of appropriate, well-timed stimulus measures have yielded dividends in jobs and growth," Harper said earlier in a statement announcing the changes.

"It is a good note upon which to start a new year. However, the global recovery is fragile. And there are still far too many jobless Canadians for whom the recovery has yet to become a full reality. That is why the economy remains the No. 1 priority for Canadians, and must remain the No. 1 priority for our government," he said.

Opposition parties were critical of the reshuffle, particularly on the environmental portfolio, saying that it doesn't matter who the environment minister is, nothing will be done with Harper in charge.

"You can shuffle the cards all you want, but there's one guy holding the deck and that's Stephen Harper," Liberal lawmaker Martha Hall Findlay said.

New Democrat Leader Jack Layton, who Harper expects to support the next national budget, says a minor cabinet shuffle doesn't do much to address the most pressing issues facing Canadians: an affordability crisis and a shaky economic recovery.

"A few cosmetic tweaks won't change the fact that we have the same leader and the same finance minister driving our fragile economy in the wrong direction," said Layton in response to the reshuffle.

"There are 1.5 million Canadians still out of work from the recession. Mr. Harper and Mr. Flaherty (finance minister) have led the country into the biggest deficit in our history. Economists are speculating that in 2011, the U.S. economy will pull ahead of Canada's. Mr. Harper can window dress all he wants, but it doesn't change reality," Layton said.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also echoed the criticisms. "On the climate file, Canada continues to perform abysmally and the buck stops with the prime minister who has dictated that his cabinet minister in the environmental file...protect the tar sands and ignore the climate."

Harper has denied that he is readying for an election in the spring. But the new cabinet would help the Conservatives in the event that opposition parties defeat the annual budget later this winter.

Evan Solomon, host of the CBC's Power &Politics, said the promotion of two Toronto-area lawmakers shows the Conservatives are targeting "fortress Liberal," in preparation for a possible spring election.

The House of Commons is currently on a winter break and will reconvene on Jan. 31.


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