We’ve arrived at the halfway point of Stephen Harper’s Majority rule, and the prime minister and his beleaguered government are more unpopular in the polls than ever. So, he’s understandably tried to hit the ‘reset button’ on all of his minister’s past blunders by shuffling his ministers in and out of different portfolios to suit his agenda.
A significant change – among many – was the demotion of the unpopular Minister for International Cooperation – Julian Fantino – to the position of Minister for Veterans Affairs. Additionally Defense Minister Peter MacKay swapped positions with the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Rob Nicholson after MacKay’s failed attempt at acquiring the incredibly expensive and ineffective F-35 jets as a part of the Joint Strike Fighter Program.
Also notable, there is no Government Leader in the Senate. With the exception of a few months in 1926, this is the only time in Canadian history that there’s been no Senate representative in cabinet. This is likely an attempt by the prime minister to distance himself from all that has ailed him in the Senate over the past few months, like the now infamous Duffy Bucks scandal.
This, however, is unlikely to appease the general public. Trying to take a step back from the Upper House that the ruling Tories have cherished and supported for so long is unlikely to appeal the majority of Canadians who are calling for either abolition of the antiquated Senate, or serious democratic reform.
Perhaps more interestingly, Harper tried to snag headlines and support from the now largely disenfranchised female electorate by giving nearly a third of all cabinet positions to women, the largest amount in Canadian history. Although this may seem like a positive change, in fact none of the 12 female ministers hold any of the senior economic portfolios that are at the center of power in this government. In fact, the only woman who held a senior economic position in the last government – Diane Finley – was moved from her important position at Human Resources and Skills Development into Public Works. Proving once again that the status of women in Canada is not a priority for their government.
Yes, indeed, this is a significant change of faces. But ultimately, does it mark a true change in government policy and focus? Very unlikely.
Stephen Harper is one of the most controlling and powerful prime ministers in recent memory. He has repeatedly taken control over ministers’ proposals and speaking time in the House of Commons to suit the party line. Not only that, he frequently sends out rehashed statements from the Prime Minister’s Office to prevent his cabinet from doing their job by disallowing them to deal with their respective portfolios, and instead speak the attack sound bite of the day.
In the first major scandal since the new cabinet, Erica Furtado, head of issues-management at the PMO sent out an email to new ministers describing in detail the goals of the government in the coming months and gave them a list of “enemies” for them to avoid at all costs.
Included in the list is organizations and individuals that Furtado claims should be avoided, as well as “pet bureaucratic projects” and “enemy stakeholders”.
Not only is this language disturbing, it’s absolutely not conductive to a successful session of parliament, nor an election campaign for that matter.
If the prime minister doesn’t want ministers to do their job by following “pet bureaucratic projects” and instead just reiterating the party line, it seems we will have a cabinet as inefficient and plagued with scandal as the last.
It seems reshuffling the deck doesn’t matter much when you’re just no good at bluffing.