In defence of federal arts funding: Readers write

Yesterday, across our chain, I advocated that the federal government ought to preserve — and possibly even enhance — financial support for Canada's cultural economy:

The first — but not best — reason is this kind of spending is good for the country’s bottom line. That’s right: Every dollar spent on the arts is worth many more dollars in economic activity and increased tax revenue for multiple levels of government.

But the second and best reason for a federal government to invest is because this is what great nations do and, if I’ve heard Stephen Harper say it once, I’ve heard him say it a hundred times, he believes Canada is a great nation that can be greater. And funding the arts is one important step on the path to greatness.

[Read the whole column]

I was pleased to see a surprising number of e-mails from our readers endorsing this view. Here's two:

I just wanted to send you a note to thank you for your recent article on “great countries are art smart”. It was very clear and in my opinion a very accurate portrait of the importance and effect art has for a country.  I don't normally agree with Sun Media commentaries but in this case I was surprised and please to see the arguments in support of art described in the language and context that conservative thinkers can readily understand.  It has taught me to alter my comments when talking to people that see art as a luxury we can I'll afford at anytime but especially during a down turn in the economy (there is always an economic downturn or crisis somewhere that make we Canadians think twice about economic support to our country)

I live in Winnipeg and right now there is a vital art scene here with many high profile art being produced and sold internationally.  Not only with known artists but with very talented minor artists that are finally finding their way and finding some economic success.  I think this development in Winnipeg has a direct correlation with the steady economic growth of our city. When people come here, they are always surprised to see such growth and prosperity which I think has a lot to do with the development of the arts culture here. Even during slower growth the arts community keeps on dragging our mainly conservative population and businesses, encouraging innovation and showing the way to cultural and economic prosperity.

Your article captured what is currently happening in Winnipeg and the message needs to be repeated till all Canadians understand the connection between culture and prosperity.


Thank you SO much for this editorial.  Our city, Woodstock, is right now in a bitter conflict over our art gallery.  The federal and provincial government DID do the right thing and provide us with grant money to build a new gallery, but our mayor, who was previously on council and voted against the project, is now trying to stop it.

The gallery building has been renovated and is now a state of the art gallery and 2 weeks before art was to be transferred, he offered the building to Fanshawe College as a satellite campus.  He is letting the building sit empty and is willing to leave it that way until Fanshawe and the governments make a decision.  There are 2 problems here.  Fanshawe already has a campus in town (its main campus is in London) and their grant request to expand last year was refused at the provincial level.  The second problem is the existing gallery is not fully accessible, not climate controlled, not big enough for the programs and classes they want to give, and is unable to accept donations from patrons because of lack of space.  We have an impressive collection of Florence Carlyle paintings – she is from Woodstock – that is gaining value now, with inappropriate conditions to maintain its integrity.

The mayor is attempting to have the grant money transferred from culture to education.  So here is an example of the right thing being done, and a short sighted municipal government making every attempt possible to stop it.  If you have any ideas as to what action gallery supporters can take to get the new building open, I'd love to hear from you.

I'd also like to photocopy your editorial and flood the city with it if I may.

Thanks again for your inadvertent support!

Parliamentary Secretaries compared: Some veteran MPs out; some rookies are in

Prime Minister Stephen Harper named his Parliamentary Secretaries to his Ministers today. Parliamentary Secretaries can have a variety of duties but, basically, they are there to act for the minister in the House of Commons when the Minister is absent and be the link between Parliament and the minister. The folks at seems to have a pretty reasonable backgrounder on the job if you'd like to learn more.

A Parliamentary Secretary can count on a slightly thicker pay packet than your garden-variety backbencher. All MPs earn a base salary of $157,731 a year but a P.S. gets an extra $15,834 a year.

If you're in the government caucus, being a member of the ministry is best, a parliamentary secretaryship is not bad, and, if you don't get either of those, you're probably angling to be chair of one of the House of Commons committees. MPs get an extra $11,165 for being a committee chair. (In fact, some parliamentary geek types tell me that in a majority parliament, being a committee chair may actually be more influential and interesting than being a Parliamentary Secretary.)

Depending on the prime minister, a parliamentary secretary's job can be a try-out for a full-time minister's job. Some prime minister's, prefer to look to those who have been chairs of House of Commons committees for future ministers.  In the current ministry, Maxime Bernier, Steven Blaney, Ed Fast, and Gary Goodyear were chairs of committees before being elevated. (Bernier went from full minister to committee chair and is now a minister of state)

Here's a list of Parliamentary Secretaries since Stephen Harper became prime minister in 2006 prepared by the Library of Parliament (Note to any librarians reading this blog: Laurie Hawn, the P.S. to the minister of national defence at the conclusion of the 40th Parliament is missing in this list). Harper has promoted just five MPs from Parliamentary Secretary all the way to full Minister. They include John Duncan, Jason Kenney, James Moore, Christian Paradis, and Peter Van Loan, . Harper has promoted seven ParlSecs to the Minister of State role including DIane Ablonczy, Steven Fletcher, Helena Guergis, Ted Menzies, Rob Moore, Alice Wong, and Lynne Yelich.

So, I think it's fair to say that becoming a Parliamentary Secretary is helpful but it's not necessarily going to put you in line for a cabinet spot.

In fact, as you'll see from the list below, six MPs who were Parliamentary Secretaries at the conclusion of the last Parliament do not hold that role as the 41st Parliament begins. Not returning in their ParlSec role are: Laurie Hawn (gets to be on some sub-committee of Treasury Board instead but there's nothing I can find in the House of Commons rules that gives him extra money for that work), Brian Jean, Greg Kerr, Ed Komarnicki, Dave MacKenzie, and Mark Warawa.

In fact: Just one MP who was a ParlSec at the conclusion of that last Parliament got a promotion: Alice Wong moves up to become Minister of State for Seniors.

And while four members of the ministry were defeated on May 2 — Lawrence Cannon, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Josee Verner and Gary Lunn — just two Parliamentary Secretaries went down to defeat at the polls: Sylvie Boucher and Daniel Petit.

There is a lot of “stability”, to use the PMO's fave phrase, in the current roster of Parliamentary Secretaries. Just two MPs who were backbenchers a month ago are getting a promotion.That would be Paul Calandra and Candice Hoeppner. But there are eight rookie MPs who will make their House of Commons debuts next week as Parliamentary Secretaries. They are: Eve Adams, Chris Alexander, Kerry-Lynne Findlay, Robert Goguen, Kellie Leitch, Chungsen Leung, Michelle Rempel, and Susan Truppe.

One other note: Two ministers of state from the last Parliament — Rob Moore and Rob Merrifield — not only fell out of the ministry but neither are parliamentary secretaries.

So here's my list of MPs with their job at the end of the 40th Parliament and their job as the 41st Parliament opens:

MP Last position in 40th Parliament Beginning 41st Parliament
Adams, Eve Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs
Alexander, Chris Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence
Anderson, David Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board
Boucher, Sylvie Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women DEFEATED
Brown, Lois Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation
Calandra, Paul MP Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage
Carrie, Colin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health
Dechert, Bob Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs
Del Mastro, Dean Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs
Dykstra, Rick Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
Findlay, Kerry-Lynne Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice
Glover, Shelly Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance
Goguen, Robert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice
Gourde, Jacques Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, for Official Languages Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, for Official Languages and for the Economic Development Agency for the Regions of Quebec
Hawn, Laurie Parliament Secretary to the Minister of National Defence MP
Hoeppner, Candice MP and Chair of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety
Jean, Brian Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities MP
Kamp, Randy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and for the Asia-Pacific Gateway
Keddy, Gerald Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and for the Atlantic Gateway
Kerr, Greg Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs MP
Komarnicki, Ed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour MP
Lake, Mike Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry
Leitch, Kellie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour
Lemieux, Pierre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture
Leung, Chungsen Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism
Lukiwski, Tom Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
MacKenzie, Dave Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety MP
McLeod, Cathy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue
Obhrai, Deepak Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs
Petit, Daniel Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice DEFEATED
Poilievre, Pierre Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario
Rempel, Michelle Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment
Rickford, Greg Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario
Saxton, Andrew Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and for Western Economic Diversification
Truppe, Susan Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women
Warawa, Mark Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment MP
Wong, Alice Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism Minister of State (Seniors)

Leslie Gelb on Obama's Historic Mideast Gamble

An interesting piece from Leslie Gelb, a former New York Times correspondent and currently the President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, on the speech President Barack Obama gave last week and the reaction to that speech:

Entwined within this Gordian knot is a truth so terrible as to be rarely spoken. It is that Arabs hate two peoples, not one—the Jews, of course, and also, shockingly, the Palestinians. Yes, the Arabs incessantly demand justice for Palestinians, but the words belie a historical pattern of using Israel as a whipping boy to deflect attention from Arab injustices. Thus, their Arab champions allow Palestinians to fester in refugee camps throughout the region, make no effort to integrate them into their own societies, and provide them with only the most modest economic assistance. Arab leaders and intellectuals say this is necessary to sustain pressure on Israel to take Palestinian refugees back. Yet, they know full well this will never happen. Arabs themselves keep the Palestinians segregated, perhaps because they do not like or trust them, perhaps because they see Palestinians as an inferior tribe or a superior one, perhaps as too demanding, perhaps as too much like the Jews who sprang from the same Abrahamic loins. And Palestinians have often returned these same unkind sentiments in kind, as when they sought to overthrow King Hussein of Jordan in the 1960s and cheered as Saddam Hussein's Iraq troops conquered Kuwait in 1991 . . .

Obama ran open-eyed into the Palestinian-Israeli buzz saw….

Experts and negotiators will declaim over the bowl full of details in Obama's Thursday speech. But its heart is this: Israel would accept a Palestinian state outlined by 1967 borders with land swaps to accommodate Israeli settlers on the West Bank, while Palestinians would recognize a Jewish state of Israel and agree that its state be demilitarized. In other words, Palestinians would receive statehood, and Israelis would have their security. The equally volatile issues of Jerusalem and the right of Palestinians to return to Israel were to be set aside for later determination. Suffice it to say, the Israeli government went bonkers, and the Palestinians weren't happy either…

Your new de facto deputy prime minister: Senator Marjory LeBreton

Unlike some prime ministers before him, Stephen Harper has never named a deputy prime minister as part of his cabinet. And yet, the law requires that the Harper administration prepare a list which names the de facto prime minister should Harper, for any reason, be unable to “perform the functions of his office.”

For all of the years that Harper was a minority prime minister, that de facto deputy prime minister was Lawrence Cannon, the MP from Pontiac who served most recently as Minister of Foreign Affairs. But Cannon was defeated on May 2 and so, the PMO has now been forced to find a new number two to Harper. That new number two is none other than Senator Marjory LeBreton (left), the leader of the government in the Senate.

Cannon appears to have had his status as the de facto deputy PM because of his position as vice-chair of the most most powerful cabinet committee, the Priorities and Planning Committee (known in Ottawa as P-and-P). The chair of this committee is none other than the prime minister himself and normally it is the only cabinet committee the prime minister belongs to. In the current cabinet committee configuration, a new cabinet committee has been created: The Cabinet Committee on National Security. Harper is also chairing that committee.

Becoming the chair of a cabinet committee is a big deal for those who spend a lot of time watching the power structure of Ottawa. Many have quietly noted, for example, that while John Baird got the plum post of Minister of Foreign Affairs in the latest shuffle, Jason Kenney — who was also rumoured to be in line for that job — was recognized for his political work and increasing influence when the prime minister named him chair of the second most influential committee (or third, if, in this case, you think any committee Harper is chairing is automatically influential), that being the Cabinet Committee on Operations. This used to be the committee that Jim Prentice chaired and it was through that chairmanship that many believe Prentice wielded significant influence.

And because of his chairmanship of “Ops”, Kenney become the number two on the list to act as PM if Harper is otherwise indisposed and LeBreton is also indisposed. Baird, at the end of the last Parliament, was chair of the “Ops” and, as a result, was number two on this list, but now Kenney holds both roles.

Baird now falls to number eleven on the list, behind Bev Oda, but ahead of Finance Minister Flaherty.

Now, of course, it's unlikely enough that LeBreton will have to step in and act for Harper in the event Harper is unable to be PM and it's even more unlikely to have a scenarios where Bev Oda becomes acting PM becuase Harper, LeBreton, Kenney, and seven other ministers are also incapacitated all at the same time, but it is a bit of an odd list. It doesn't seem to be a list based on seniority — Gerry Ritz was elected to the House in 1997 and has been a full minister since 2006 but is behind Baird and Flaherty who only became MPs in 2006 — or any other objective criteria.  Except for the fact that chairs of cabinet committees hold the top spots on that list, it looks like the list was developed with some subjective or qualitative criteria — though I've no idea what it might be.

The Conservative talking points on President Obama's mideast peace proposal

U.S. President Barack Obama sketched out some new and, apparently, controversial proposals Thursday for a new framework for mideast peace talks involving Israel and Palestine. Here's the chief controversial bit in Obama's speech:

The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.  We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.  The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

Today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's communications director, Dimitri Soudas, and other government officials were asked about their response to this idea of using the 1967 border as a basis for peace talks and, by and large, they avoided any comment on it, saying only that Canada supports a negotiated two-state solution and that it was up to the negotiating parties as to any starting frameworks.

The PMO also issued the following talking points to its MPs in case any of them get asked about it. Here, courtesy of the PMO Info-Alert-Bot, are those TPs:

Position on Israel-Palestine Borders

Yesterday, President Obama outlined his position on peace in the Middle East. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is the spokesperson on this matter.

  • Canada is committed to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, whereby two states live side by side in peace and security.
  • Canada supports a negotiated solution involving both Israel and the Palestinian authority.
  • Canada notes President Obama’s speech with interest.
  • Prime Minister Harper looks forward to joining G8 leaders for discussions on the current situation in the Middle East and North Africa next week in Deauville.

The Speaker's race has its first Opposition MP entrant

The new Speaker of the House of Commons will be elected on June 2 and, until today, the entrants in that race were all Conservative MPs. The declared candidates include MPs Andrew Scheer, Barry Devolin, Lee Richardson, Dean Allison, and Bruce Stanton. Two other Conservative MPs — Merv Tweed and Ed Holder — are considering taking a run at the job.

Today, though, the first opposition MP declared her intention to win the job. NDP MP Denise Savoie (left) is in the race. Savoie was the Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole – a kind of assistant deputy speaker — in the last Parliament. Savoie, who was born in St. Boniface, Manitoba and now represents the riding of Victoria (BC), would be the most bilingual of the candidates at this point.

Here is the release from the NDP:

“I’m running for Speaker with a singular focus on raising the tone and quality of debate in Parliament, to restore the trust that Canadians deserve to have in their politicians and democratic institutions,” said Savoie.

As Assistant Deputy Speaker in the last Parliament Savoie launched a number of explicitly non-partisan initiatives aimed at fostering constructive and informed discussion on important topics, including workshops on climate change and the first all-party Parliamentary Arts Caucus.

“I’m asking my fellow MPs to imagine a Parliament that functions well – where debate is not focused on scoring points, but rather on creating better, more inclusive public policy,” said Savoie.

As a fluently bilingual Franco-Manitoban who has lived in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and now in British Columbia, Savoie brings a pan-Canadian perspective to the Speaker’s Chair.

MPs vote for the Speaker and the voting is done by secret ballot. The winner must get a majority — not a plurality — of votes and that first one that does so is the winner. In 2008, it took five ballots and about 5 hours of voting before Peter Milliken was declared the winner.


A style note: Aboriginal vs Indian, Metis, Inuit and Innu

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has ruffled some feathers in Canada's First Nations communities by changing the title of the federal minister responsible for The Indian Act to Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister from Indian and Northern Affairs Minister.

On that note, here's a helpful reminder distributed earlier today by Inuit Tapirit Kanatami, Canada's national Inuit organization:

A Note on Terminology:
Inuit, Métis, First Nations, and Aboriginal

(Adapted from the Report on the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples)

The term Aboriginal People refers to the indigenous inhabitants of Canada when describing in a general manner the Inuit, and First Nations (Indians), and Métis people, without regard to their separate origins and identities.

The term Aboriginal Peoples refers to organic political and cultural entities that stem historically from the original people of North America, rather than collections of individuals united by so-called “racial” characteristics. The term includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada (see section 35(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982):

(2) In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

Following accepted practice and as a general rule, the term Inuit replaces the term Eskimo. As well, the term First Nation replaces the term Indian.

For greater clarity:

Aboriginal is an all-encompassing term that includes Inuit, First Nations (Indians), and Métis.

“First Peoples” is also an all-encompassing term that includes Inuit, First Nations (Indians) and Métis.

Aboriginal and First Nations are NOT interchangeable terms.

“Aboriginal” and “First Peoples” ARE interchangeable terms.

Inuit is the contemporary term for “Eskimo”.

First Nation is the contemporary term for “Indian”.

Inuit are “Aboriginal” or “First Peoples”, but are not “First Nations”, because “First Nations” are Indians. Inuit are not Indians.

The term “Indigenous Peoples” is an all-encompassing term that includes the Aboriginal or First Peoples of Canada, and other countries. For example, the term “Indigenous Peoples” is inclusive of Inuit in Canada, Maori in New Zealand, Aborigines in Australia, and so on. The term “Indigenous Peoples” is generally used in an international context. The title of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a prime example of the global inclusiveness of the term “Indigenous Peoples”.

Difference between Inuit and Innu:

Innu are a First Nations (Indian) group located in northeastern Quebec and southern Labrador. ITK frequently receives requests regarding Innu, however they are represented by the Innu Nation.

That last note about the Innu Nation is an important one for there are two Innu MPs in the 41st Parliament, one of whom becomes the country's first-ever Innu cabinet minister today. That minister is Peter Penashue (and it's pronouced PEN-ash-away) the newly minted Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada. The other Innu MP is the NDP's Jonathan Genest-Jourdain, a lawyer representing the northern Quebec riding of Manicouagan.


In Afghanistan: The battle for "hearts and minds" suffers, as the Taliban takes to Twitter

Reuters, on Monday, reported:

Despite battlefield gains against insurgents in southern Afghanistan, the United States is failing to win over Afghans in the heartland of the Taliban, a new study shows.

Almost 90 percent of men polled in contested districts in southern Afghanistan believe foreign military operations are bad for them, according to research by the International Council on Security and Development, or ICOS.

But Steve Biddle, writing on the Web site of the [U.S.] Council on Foreign Relations, reads this research differently:

The purpose is not to win by making the locals like you, as the bumper sticker seems to imply. The purpose is to replace insurgent control of the population with government control of the population. This normally requires combat to clear insurgents from the area and defeat their efforts to return. Combat in populated areas is always unpopular with resident civilians. Whatever else they want from life, civilians want to survive. And combat in populated areas always kills innocent civilians as a byproduct of the effort to kill insurgents. Before the government offensive, there is usually little violence–when insurgents control the area they don’t need to kill people. Then the government launches an offensive to clear the insurgent presence, and there is a lot of violence, with inevitable damage to civilian property and deaths of innocent people. When asked, as ICOS did, civilians normally prefer insurgent control and calm over a war amongst their homes and families that might get them killed. Once the government establishes real, persistent control, the preference returns to calm and safety over combat and danger, but this now favors the government over the insurgency.

(This is not unique to COIN, by the way. The population of Normandy was not happy when the Allies invaded in 1944. Most preferred calm and German occupation over destruction of their homes and livelihoods, chaos, and the risk of death for themselves and their families, even in exchange for freedom from the unwelcome Germans. Survival tends to outweigh other considerations in wartime among directly threatened civilians.)

Meanwhile, the Taliban have taken its propaganda war — aimed at winning hearts and minds — to a new theatre: Twitter and Facebook. The Taliban tweeted this earlier today:


Not sure — in fact, pretty sure — this is not true. Spin Boldak is well south of Kandahar, where most Canadian Forces personnel and assets are, right on the border with Pakistan. We have no reports in Ottawa that Canadian armour was operating near there today and I can find no independent reports of NATO activities there today.

Here's the daily report from NATO's ISAF for May 17

Contractual obligation fulfilled! The Cabinet Spec blog post

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is widely expected to name his new cabinet this week. Possibly as early as Tuesday morning but perhaps he'll do it Wednesday.

So as only three people likely know for sure who's in cabinet — Harper, his chief of staff Nigel Wright and principal secretary Ray Novak — let's speculate away and, in doing so, fulfill one of the time-honoured olibagations of the Ottawa Pundit Class.


We start with the holes that the prime minister has to be fill:

  • Minister of Foreign Affairs (incumbent Lawrence Cannon defeated on May 2)
  • Minster of Veterans Affairs (incumbent Jean-Pierre Blackburn defeated)
  • Minister of State (Agriculture) (incumbent Jean-Pierre Blackburn defeated)
  • Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities (incumbent Chuck Strahl retired)
  • President of the Treasury Board (incumbent Stockwell Day retired)
  • Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway (incumbent Stockwell Day retired)
  • Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs (incumbent Josée Verner defeated)
  • President of the Queen's Privy Council (incumbent Josée Verner defeated)
  • Minister for La Francophonie (incumbent Josée Verner defeated)
  • Minister of State (Sport) ((incumbent Gary Lunn defeated)

So if Harper divvies up some of those simultaneous appointments and fills each hole with one person, this frees up 10 new cabinet positions.

Harper's Shuffle History

Through all his cabinet shuffles, including the one after the 2008 election, Harper has shown remarkable loyalty to all his ministers, never using a cabinet shuffle to send a cabinet minister all the way the backbenches. Certainly Gary Lunn suffered a demotion going from Minister of Natural Resources before the 2008 election to Minister of State after the election and Lisa Raitt was also given a relatively less important portfolio when she ended up becoming MInister of Labour after the famous lost tape-recorder institute while she was Minister of Natural Resources.

The only other two ministers who have left cabinet for reasons other than resignation were Maxime Berner (resigned Foreign Affairs after leaving secret documents at his girlfriend's house) and Helena Guergis (fired for — well, we're not quite sure).

So we might assume then that anyone who was in cabinet before the election can expect to be back in cabinet next week.

Also: Harper has often put “rookie MPs” into a minister of state or secretary of state role before consideration for full minister. Julian Fantino is a good example. Thought to be ready to leap into a full cabinet job, Harper named him Minister of State for Seniors after his byelection. Peter Kent was a minister of state before becoming a full minister. This is one reason why I believe someone like the capable Kellie Leitch, who occupies Guergis' old seat in Simcoe-Grey, may find herself as a MInister of State (for Sport, maybe?) rather than becoming full-time minister. Same with the much-heralded Chris Alexander. Perhaps Alexander, with his long career as a diplomat, becomes Minister of State for External Affairs. Or, almost better in the sense he might get a chance to play more of a policy role, make him chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs committee.

Dual Portfolios

Many cabinet incumbents hold two portfolios. Let's strip those incumbents of all but their “major porfolio” to create some new potential vacancies. They include:

  • Minister for Status of Women (Held by Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose)
  • Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board (Held by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz)
  • Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (held by Revenue Minister Keith Ashfield)
  • Minister for the Atlantic Gateway (held by Revenue Minister Keith Ashfield)
  • Minister for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (held by Indian and Northern Affairs Minister John Duncan)
  • Minister of State for the Federal Economic Develoment Agency for Southern Ontario (held by Minister for State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear)

If all those positions are filled with new people, this frees up 6 new cabinet positions.

The size of cabinet

If you combine the open positions from those who retired or who were defeated with the positions that might open from splitting up responsibilities among those who held two portfolios, you end up with a possibility of 16 new cabinet positions.

Now, if you add the 32 cabinet incumbents (ministers and ministers of state) to a potential 16 new people, you end up with a cabinet of 48 people. That's mighty big. Harper will almost certainly want to set a tone of austerity by keeping the overall number of ministers and ministers of state to roughly the same number as in the last Parliament. There were 38 MPs who held the title of Minister or Minister of State in the last Parliament. Given the fact that that there are 32 incumbents, that leaves room for six newbies to become ministers of state or ministers. My guess — and, let me emphasize, your guess is no better than mine — is that Harper might go to 40 but not beyond that for the minister/minister of state class.

Regional and Gender Considerations

Like all prime ministers before him, Harper will want to have representatives from all the provinces and regions in his cabinet. That makes Labrador MP Peter Penashue a shoo-in to cabinet as he is the Conservative's lone MP from Newfoundland and Labrador. Being the sole MP from her province was also Prince Edward Islander Gail Shea's ticket to a driver and car. He has plenty of options to choose from for representation from Toronto and Vancouver but there's no Tories anywhere near Montreal and only five to choose from in Quebec.

As for gender, there were just 10 of the 38 Ministers/Ministers of State in the last cabinet who were women. Harper has a chance to boost this which could help out the likes of returning MPs like Candice Hoeppner, Shelly Glover, and Kelly Block as well as new MPs like Leitch, Stella Ambler, and Eve Adams.

My significant picks

Jim Flaherty stays at Finance. Tony Clement stays at Industry. Peter MacKay stays at Defence. Ritz stays at Agriculture. Jason Kenney gets foreign affairs. John Baird goes to Justice. Rob Nicholson goes to Treasury Board. Aglukkaq is Minister for Indian and Northern Affairs. James Moore to Transport. John Duncan goes to Public Works. Rona Ambrose is your new Heritage Minister. Finley to Immigration. Raitt to Human Resources. Gail Shea to Labour and Penashue to Fisheries and Oceans. Mark Adler, Bernard Trottier, Bernard Valcourt, Block, Leitch, Alexander, Hoeppner,  and Ambler are at least ministers of state  I am almost certainly wrong on most of these guesses — but it was still fun to play.


István Deák on Orban: Free speech under threat in the Magyar Republic?

Historian István Deák casts a gimlet eye on the relatively new political administration in Hungary, the land of his birth, in a recent essay in The New York Review. I was struck by the threat Prime Minister's Viktor Orban's government is posing to a free press and to free speech rights:

Now attention is here [in Hungary] again, although only temporarily and mainly in  Europe, and it has much to do with Hungary’s assumption of the presidency of the Council of the European Union against a backdrop of  recently enacted domestic policies that are said to violate the  principles and practices of the European Union. Among other things, Hungary’s right-wing government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has set up a National Media and Communications Authority consisting of five members of Orbán’s party, Fidesz, with the authority to fine journalists and media organizations up to $1 million for “immoral reporting.”

Public criticism of the Orbán government took an astonishing turn during the introduction in Strasbourg, on January 19, 2011, of Viktor Orbán as president of the European Union’s second legislative body, the European Parliament…some deputies sat with Band-Aids covering their mouths in protest against the new Hungarian media law. Others held up blank issues of  potentially censored Hungarian dailies. The leaders of the liberal and socialist groups of deputies declared Orbán unworthy of the presidency, and the leader of the Greens, the former student anarchist Daniel Cohn-Bendit, shouted that Orbán was turning Hungary into a “Communist
surveillance dictatorship.”

One of the more serious international attempts to publicly denounce Orbán’s politics in Hungary has been an “Appeal to the European Institutions” by European intellectuals and leaders, dated January 7, 2011, in which the authors deplore the development of “a full-fledged illiberal democracy” and the dismantling of “democracy’s checks and balances” in Hungary. They demand that the European governments and parties “build clear standards of compliance with the values of democracy” and that violators of these standards be punished.

For the last few months, the government and its absolute parliamentary majority have been feverishly active, already bringing about substantial changes in politics and society. The most famous and most controversial of the innovations is the already mentioned media law giving extensive powers to the five Fidesz members who run the media authority. Appointed for nine years, they can impose a heavy fine on journalists and media outlets for reporting considered “immoral” or “unbalanced.”

Still, at the moment the media remain entirely free, and in view of the publication of the far right’s hysterical calls for violence against the Roma and the Jewish population, one might even argue that some of the media in Hungary are a little too free. Also, on February 16, 2011, the Hungarian government agreed to amend the media law to comply with changes proposed by the European Commission. The right-of-center coalition in the European Parliament has declared its satisfaction with the technical changes in the law but, in a recent development, the European Parliament as a whole called for more changes. The problem is less with the law than with the chilling effect that the rumor of censorship has had on some journalists and writers, and with the haste of some publishers and other media bosses to exercise self-censorship in order to please the new leaders of Hungary.

No less serious is the government’s systematic weakening of the powers of the Constitutional Court, the National Elections Commission, the National Bank, and the independent Fiscal Council while also putting party loyalists in the top position of each body. The government has already expressed its right to control the Hungarian Telegraph Agency, government-owned television and radio, some state-owned theaters and museums, and a few research institutions. The government, moreover, has the newly enacted right to dismiss public servants without cause.