The Honourable Joe Volpe, Publisher
TORONTO - A political wag from Ottawa called the cabinet Shuffle a “facelift” – no big deal, just a fresh me up. When something comes virtually out of the blue, like this one, the political pundits and “experts” are left scratching their heads with bemusement and speculation.
The alleged issue that prompted movement was the election of Donald Trump as president of the USA. The assessment, so goes the speculation (undoubtedly fed by the Prime Minister’s personal friend and Ambassadorial appointee to the USA), is that President-elect Trump will only respect a hard- nosed negotiator as a spokesperson for Canada.
Enter Minister Freeland of recent CETA negotiating fame. Out with the “more cerebral” Dion. But negotiations are typically handled by the Minister for International Trade rather than the Minister for Global Affairs anyway; so, enter Francois- Philippe Champagne to do that heavy lifting in that portfolio.
A more likely scenario is the one widely discussed last Fall that saw Dion musing ever more publicly about his desire to leave the political realm entirely, and hopefully replace it with a future as an Ambassador.
In either event, the changes would serve as cover to usher out some Ministers whose performance sputtered when it came to exciting the public’s imagination and converting policy into reality. If there is something that is more of a threat to a bureaucracy’s sense of purpose and empire-building than an activist Minister, it must surely be the presence of a Minister whose aversion to risk earns dismissive reactions around the Cabinet table.
Heading into the middle of the Mandate, that meant John McCallum’s days at Refugee and Immigration were numbered, as were Those of MaryAnn Mihychuk at Human Resources. McCallum at least landed in an Embassy (China). Mihychuk is in the Backbenches.
Their replacements are untested. If they have new insights into their respective portfolios, only time will tell. If they have the strength to carry out what Italians call a “mandate of purpose” (assuming there is one) will depend on the latitude the Prime Minister’s Office will give them. There is an inscription in the first Canto of Dante’s Divine Comedy that captures the moment.
The Prime Minister will have recognized by now the superficiality of the talent that was at Cabinet’s disposal. His personal attractiveness served as great cover during the learning curve for some Ministers. But, politics is a brutal row to hoe.
Political capital gets used up quickly. If the Prime Minister is the only asset the government has to play with, once the terrain becomes arduous, a lot of people will fall by the wayside.
Hence, “people projects” like the Ministers for Democratic Reform and Labour needed to be abandoned before they, and the policies they represented, became toxic. The moronic effort at public consultation for input in a future electoral architecture smacked of uninformed dilettantism at its worst.
Who knows if these moves will benefit Canada in the medium and long term? Clearly, the government is trying to shore up its own survivability in the face of the flagging fortunes of its provincial cousins (particularly in Ontario) and the ever-increasing presence of a potential alternative among the Conservative Opposition.
So far, the changes are a muted admission that in the first 15 months this administration ran on a questionable strategy of auto pilot.