Reshuffle in the summer air

Prime Minister Stephen Harper | Photo courtesy of the Prime Minister's Office [United Kingdom], Flickr

Prime Minister Stephen Harper | Photo courtesy of the Prime Minister’s Office [United Kingdom], Flickr

Rumours around ministerial reshuffles always make me smile, because – apart from the prime minister and a small, select group of advisors – no one knows who will be invited to hold a seat in the cabinet. But never mind, the speculation over who may receive a cabinet post serves to keep scribes busy during summer, days when political news is scarce.

This leads to many people trying to guess who will be part of the council of ministers­ – who will have to give up their seat as well as who will be inducted. You wouldn’t be the only one to think that being in the second group is much more attractive. The reality is that even those involved in cabinet reshuffles only learn of the changes a day or two before they occur. So, until the fateful day, rumours are just that.

That said, a great majority of observers agree that a reshuffling is in the cards. In fact, it could be a done deal even as you read this column. The Conservative government is half way through its mandate and summer is the time to reconsider and plan for the months ahead. Even though the next federal elections aren’t planned until 2015, the 12 months ahead will be crucial for the Harper government. Once 2015 arrives, his focus will be mainly on the election.

This is why the upcoming shuffle is important. With a spring full of more headaches than any other time since the beginning of his leadership, fresh blood at the cabinet table is the right antidote. In addition, other than a bit of retouching here and there, the present cabinet is more or less the same as the one appointed in May 2011, after the prime minister gained his majority.

This cabinet shuffle will call for serious thought as to who will be occupying the House of Commons seats, and how to regain control over the government’s agenda and beat the rising Liberal troops under Justin Trudeau’s leadership to a retreat.

The whole thing was to have begun in Calgary, with the Conservative party’s national convention, but it had to be cancelled because of the recent flooding that hit the city. It would’ve been an opportunity for the prime minister to rally his partisans and regroup, to try to turn over a new leaf and leave behind the last few months’ events, especially when it comes to matters of Senate expenses. This dossier has greatly irritated members of his party.

But there are mountains that even a reshuffling won’t help Harper climb. Quebec comes to mind. The province continues to turn its back on Stephen Harper and his team. In fact, two recent polls speak of the depth of the challenge.

Quebec MP Maxime Bernier may receive a promotion within the cabinet. | Photo courtesy of Agência Brasil

Quebec MP Maxime Bernier may receive a promotion within the cabinet. | Photo courtesy of Agência Brasil

According to Nanos and CROP, the Conservatives still fail to win over the Quebecois’ hearts. Both survey groups indicate that public opinion is lower now than it was when the Conservatives won the 2011 elections. But let’s face it, Quebec isn’t the province that enabled the Conservatives to win the election. Just five Conservative MPs were elected in the province.

We can bet that the reshuffling will be of little consequence in Quebec. In fact, four of the five Conservative MPs in Quebec are already ministers. Maybe we’ll see Maxime Bernier get a promotion to a more prominent role in the cabinet. It would not be a bad idea since he remains popular in the province.

Meanwhile, many MPs must be waiting by the phone to hear from the prime minister. As usual in these situations, many will be disappointed.

Translation Monique Kroeger