Jul 212013
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Re-positioning of senior ministers shows Harperites' priorities.

by Geoffrey Stevens

The removal of Cambridge MP Gary Goodyear as minister of state for science and technology in last week’s federal cabinet shuffle slipped beneath the radar of the national media.

That’s partly because the science portfolio has never assumed any importance in Stephen Harper’s universe. (This may seem odd, given the Conservatives’ emphasis on economic development, but it’s not the only peculiar priority in Ottawa these days.) It’s also partly because Goodyear, a strong constituency member, has never managed to make himself more than a marginal player in the capital.

He clings to the end of the cabinet table, the region’s only minister, by retaining his other function: minister of state for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. In plain language he is patronage minister for these parts – meaning he will still be invited to photo-ops when real ministers visit the area.

The Harper Tories don’t really believe in climate change. Or, to the extent that they do recognize environmental concerns, they rank them far below resource development and economic growth on the government’s must-do list.

One has to wonder whether Goodyear, having lost his only real responsibility in the cabinet, will choose to seek re-election in Cambridge, which he has turned into a safe Tory seat since he took it from the Liberals in the 2004 election. I don’t know Goodyear, who is a chiropractor by profession, or his ambitions, but it seems to me he would be a prime candidate for a Senate appointment as a veteran MP vacating a winnable seat. The Conservative nomination in Cambridge would be a prize worth seeking.

Another cabinet removal that did not escape media notice, however, was that of Peter Kent, dumped as environment minister. Like science, environment can be a thankless tough job these days. The Harper Tories don’t really believe in climate change. Or, to the extent that they do recognize environmental concerns, they rank them far below resource development and economic growth on the government’s must-do list.

Peter Kent was a very good broadcast journalist before he got into politics. Maybe he realized he would never be able to effect change in the environment portfolio, but for some reason he seemed determined to out-Harper Harper. He projected indifference, even hostility, to the issues raised by legitimate environmental groups. The left-wing Broadbent Institute sweepingly labeled Kent  “Canada’s worst environment minister ever.”  Whatever, he became a lightning rod to the extent that the prime minister found it expedient to get rid of him.

Leona Aglukkaq, moving over from the health ministry, inherits the environment post, but there is no reason to assume that the replacement of a southern Ontario male with a northern Canada female will be anything more than cosmetic. There is no sign of a change in government policy or priorities. That won’t happen at least as long as the minister of natural resources remains Joe Oliver, who is perhaps the cabinet’s leading proponent of pipelines and opponent of environmental groups.

Cabinet-building requires a delicate sense of political balance. In the cases of science and the environment, the balances are out of whack.

On a brighter note, last week’s shuffle saw two veteran ministers swap posts. Former justice minister Rob Nicholson went to defence while the defence minister, Peter MacKay, went to justice.

MacKay has led a charmed political existence ever since he stood aside to let Harper capture the leadership of the reconstituted Conservative party in 2003. Harper has rewarded him with a succession of plum posts – foreign affairs, defence and now justice.

In defence, MacKay was a huge booster of the absurdly expensive F-35 fighter. Experts in the United States are calling the F-35 the largest single military program in history, with an anticipated price of $1.45 trillion over the plane’s lifetime – of which $40 billion (or more) Canada would be expected to pay.

The Tories promised to reconsider their decision to buy the plane, then buried the reconsideration in an internal review. Rob Nicholson comes to defence without MacKay’s F-35 baggage. If Harper decides to blow up the F-35 project, he will find it easier, politically, to have Nicholson, not MacKay, press the destruct button.

About Geoffrey Stevens

Cambridge resident Geoffrey Stevens, an author and former Ottawa columnist and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, teaches political science at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph. He welcomes comments at the address below. This article appeared in the Waterloo Region Record and the Guelph Mercury.

© Copyright 2013 Geoffrey Stevens, All rights Reserved. Written For: StraightGoods.ca

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