Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Low Down on the Federal Cabinet Shuffle

There are a number of notable changes to the federal cabinet that government relations practitioners should heed:

Rob Nicholson moves from his prominent position as House Leader towards becoming Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. He takes this position over from Vic Toews who is now President of the Treasury Board. Many pundits are crediting this shuffle as a means of preparing the government for the coming federal election likely to be this Spring. While being a strong Minister, some have suggested that Vic would be better placed in a portfolio with less media attention.

The Senate's Marjory LeBreton takes on additional duties as Secretary of State (Seniors), in addition to her responsibilities as Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Moving from the Immigration portfolio, Monte Solberg becomes Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, taking over from Diane Finley. In this instance, a true shuffle has occured as the two ministers are swapping portfolios. Diane Finley now becomes Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

Peter Van Loan becomes Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform. He fills this position after Michael Chong left a void in the Harper Cabinet. You may recall that he was the junior Minister who left in disagreement with the government's stance on declaring Quebec a nation within Canada.

FINALLY....there was no surprise in the announcement that Rona Ambrose was moved out of the Environment portfolio. Long embattled and not well supported by the PM, it was becoming more and more evident that the Conservatives needed to put a new face on this portfolio as public pressure for a new environmental position presented itself. Rona now becomes President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister of Western Economic Diversification. In her place, John Baird becomes Minister of the Environment.

Ministerial changes haven't been the only shuffle to watch. For the first time, the Prime Minister has decided to add a new category of minister: the Secretary of State. A sort-of cross between a Minister and Parliamentary Secretary, the newly appointed Secretaries of State will be members of the Ministry and will be bound by Cabinet solidarity, but will not be members of Cabinet (Senator LeBreton will remain a full Cabinet Minister). Each will attend the meetings of the appropriate Cabinet Committee, in light of his or her responsibilities. Each of the Secretaries of State has been given a specific area of responsibility, in order to assist one or more Ministers consistent with previous Canadian practice and the practice in other Westminster governments. Secretaries of State will discharge this role in a number of ways, including:

•representing their Minister, or the Government, at events;
•meeting with stakeholders and other groups;
•demonstrating policy leadership on one or more specific initiatives relating to their assignment, and at the direction of the responsible Minister; and
•appearing on behalf of their Minister in Parliament and before its committees as may be required.

Unlike Ministers, who will remain full members of the Cabinet, Secretaries of State will not be members of the Cabinet. (Senator LeBreton will remain a full Cabinet Minister). However, each Secretary of State will attend meetings of a Cabinet Committee, in keeping with his or her specific areas of responsibility.

As members of the Ministry, Secretaries of State have been sworn to the Privy Council. They will be bound by Cabinet solidarity, and will be bound to respect Cabinet confidences. Ministers will remain fully accountable for the powers vested by statute, and for the direction of government departments and agencies within their respective portfolios.

For a list of the new Secretaries of State, email me at my new website contact page: www.actionstrategies.ca

Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & marketing communications consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting www.actionstrategies.ca and dropping down the newsletter menu.

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