Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An Underwhelming Cabinet

As a Tory, I am generally well-disposed to the decisions of a Conservative government. However, the new cabinet announced today is decidedly a let-down, dashing hopes every which way. Harper failed to show decisiveness, accountability or boldness in his new choices. The Cabinet as a whole is actually pretty good: Jim Flaherty is a finance minister on par with Paul Martin, while Peter McKay has done well in Defence, Jason Kenney has amazed in Immigration, and others like Van Loan, Diane Finley and Christian Paradis have impressed.

That said, the changes to the Cabinet are uninspiring, to say the least. While somewhat constrained by geography, Harper's decisions are nevertheless poor. Firstly, Cabinet is unnecessarily bloated with unimportant posts: 11 Ministers of State, 3 Foreign Ministers (Foreign Affairs, International Co-operation, and International Trade; 4 if you include a Minister of State "of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs)" and an "Associate Defence Minister". Given the panopoly of foreign affairs posts, one would suppose that room would be found for the best-qualified member of the Tory caucus, Chris Alexander (former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan, among other postings). While it is perhaps understandable to have an experienced Cabinet hand at Foreign Affairs rather than a neophyte, can anyone honestly believe Bev Oda to be better fitted to International Co-operation than Alexander? Bev Oda, to be blunt, doesn't merit being in Cabinet at all both on account of her ineffectiveness and her ethical lapses; still less is she suited to represent Canada on the international stage. Other Ministers while not having the red flags of Oda, simply haven't impressed, and should not have had free passes back into Cabinet given the wealth of talent on the Conservative backbenches: James Moore, Vic Toews, Rona Ambrose and Lisa Raitt are good examples of questionable reappointments. Moore in particular is a poor man's John Baird - while being an effective partisan bulldog, Moore lacks Baird's better qualities of charm and intellect.

Out on the West Coast, British Columbia has lost Chuck Strahl, Stockwell Day, Gary Lunn and Jay Hill over the past year, and saw John Duncan, Ed Fast and Alice Wong. Inevitably, such a turnover will lessen the weight of the BC contingent at the Cabinet table. While Duncan and Fast are worthy choices, Alice Wong as a Minister of State does little to add to the delegation, and cannot be regarded as a likely choice for further advancement. With Alice Wong and James Moore, BC has two cabinet slots occupied by unimpressive individuals, while higher-upside talents like Mark Warawa, John Weston and Russ Hiebert languish on the backbench.