Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The New Cabinet

So, despite my resolution to move away from the political, dp expresses surprise that I haven't commented on the new Cabinet. So, with trepidation, I'll offer my reaction.

There are some appointments I love. Rona Ambrose for Environment. Gary Lunn getting Natural Resources. Maxime Bernier moving into the Industry portfolio. Chuck Strahl in Agriculture and Stockwell Day in Public Safety. I'm also a fan of Tony Clement, and I'm confident he'll impress in Health. Hearn in Fisheries, Prentice in Indian Affairs and Bev Oda for Heritage were all obvious picks, and for good reason. Leaving James Moore out was similarly well-judged; though a strong QP performer, there's a wealth of difference between opposition & government, and his other qualifications seem to spring solely from the media's love for him, which is hardly an unalloyed virtue in my mind.

The vast majority of the rest of the picks were sound, if not spectacular matches as the above are. My reservations are highest when it comes to Justice. I'm doubtful Toews has the gravitas to deal with the Justice system, and I'm concerned he'll overreach. We'd have been better off putting Peter MacKay or Flaherty in Justice. I'm disappointed Monte Solberg didn't get a higher profile slot, and he would have been a wise choice to guide the Tories through their first budget. He could also have replaced MacKay in Foreign Affairs extremely ably.

I'm worried that Harper's pick for Finance, Jim Flaherty will have too negative a profile in Ontario due to his close association with the Harris era in Ontario; better to have put Solberg in Finance, or even to have given Maxime Bernier the job.

I'd have preferred to keep Social Development as a separate portfolio at least until the Tory programme on Child Care Choice has gone into effect; Josee Verner would have been a good choice there.

To the controversies. Just to give a quick brief, David Emerson, a former deputy Minister in British Columbia and ex-CEO of Canfor had been the Industry Minister in the Liberal government. He's crossed the floor and taken on International Trade & the Olympics in the Tory administration. The other big controversy involves Harper's appointment of Michael Fortier to the Senate (on a temporary basis) and to Cabinet. Fortier's from Montreal (which didn't elect any Tories this time round), and a major figure in the Conservative machine in Quebec.

Firstly, the Emerson kerfluffle. I'm critical of the entire endeavour. A great number of people are comparing Emerson to Belinda. Now, I believe that Emerson switched parties for nobler reasons than Belinda, out of a desire to serve the country rather than seeking greater power for himself. Emerson didn't get into politics to become a player, and he's consistently failed to exhibit any leadership aspiratiohs whatsoever. Add to that the fact that Emerson probably will lose his riding running as a Tory, and I think it's pretty clear that Emerson isn't exhibiting the vaulting ambition that Stronach did. What makes his flip as bad as Belinda's is the timing. Emerson just ran as a Liberal in his riding, fighting off the NDP in part by saying a number of harsh things about the Tories. He should not have campaigned as an anti-Tory unless he was one. At the very least, Emerson should have waited to see a budget before saying 'I'm on board with the Tory agenda'. Belinda at least was known in her riding to have reservations about the socially-conservative element of the Conservatives.

Where the Belinda comparison goes off the rails is by thinking Harper & Martin's actions were equivalent. To my mind Harper ought not to have promoted Emerson's rapid shunting aside of his loyalty to his constituents (which, to my mind is to give the Liberals a fair shake in opposition and retain a reasonable skepticism for a time about Tory virtues). Still, that is nowhere near Martin's grievous assault on our constitutional & legal system. It seems almost certain to me that a quid pro quo was offered to Belinda in exchange for her vote on a resolution before House. As the Ethics Commissioner's report on the Grewal affair shows, that was a crime. That, however, was not the worst of it. If we cast our minds back, we'll remember that Martin's government had already been defeated on a confidence vote in the House, which for technical reasons, he refused to accept as a formal vote of non-confidence. However, a firm constitutional convention states that when there is a government defeat in the House, and it is uncertain as to whether the Government holds the confidence of the House, the Government must put forward, at the shortest reasonable juncture a formal resolution of non-confidence. Martin did not, violating the Constitution of Canada. Instead, he delayed for across a weekend, which gave him enough time to persuade Belinda to cross the floor and save the government.

On the Fortier affair, I haven't the faintest objection to Senators being in Cabinet. It's hardly a novel thing to do, and any questions asked in the House can be answered by his Parliamentary Secretary. Nor have I an objection to Harper appointing Senators. I further think that this temporary appointment doesn't violate the spirit of Harper's pledge to institute an elected Senate. I do however, find the "we need a Montrealer" rationale to be silly. We don't need cabinet representation in the big cities of Montreal & Toronto. Sure, it's nice, but hardly essential. The Liberals lacked cabinet representation from the conservative ridings in the country. Just because the liberal ridings in this country are more geographically concentrated doesn't make Tory non-representation any worse than that of the Liberals.

There is a final mini-controversy, which is the appointment of retired Brigadier-General Gordon O'Connor to head the Defence Department because he worked as a lobbyist in the industry for some time. But conflicts of interest are about ensuring no government official acts with a few to securing some future exterior benefit; in short if he were to return to lobbying that would be problematic, for he may have favoured some companies to generate goodwill. Going the other direction shouldn't create such problems.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It seems almost certain to me that a quid pro quo was offered to Belinda in exchange for her vote on a resolution before House. As the Ethics Commissioner's report on the Grewal affair shows, that was a crime."

That's probably true, although there is no evidence and nobody has admitted it, so there's not much for the Ethics Commissioner to go on. In the case of Emerson you have Harper admitting that he called Emerson offering him the chance to switch. And Emerson saying that his reasons were that he would be more effective in Cabinet than as an opposition MP. So they have confirmed that an inducement was made. Is this not actionable by the Ethics Commissioner?

As was the case with Stronach, who would believe that Emerson would have crossed without the inducement?

February 08, 2006 1:05 PM  
Blogger gabriel said...

Interesting points. I don't think anyone has confirmed an inducement was made. Even if so, I believe (and by all means go check the Ethics Commish's report) that the ban on inducements is related to specific matters- in the case of Grewal & Stronach, inducements to change their votes on the confidence matter.

"Who would believe Emerson would have crossed without the inducement?" Perhaps it was there, but it might not have been. I'd imagine that Emerson would be confident that he'd be named to cabinet even if the subject were purposefully avoided.

February 08, 2006 1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An cabinet position was offered by Reynolds. He confirmed this in a CBC radio interview Thursday morning (Feb. 9).


February 10, 2006 12:11 AM  

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