Monday, July 15, 2013

All Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing...

Many people were waiting for the on the horizon cabinet shuffle in Ottawa that finally took place today. Pundits saw it as an opportunity for a scandal plagued government to turn the page and change the channel by getting Canadians to talk about something other than Duffy-Wright. And while people have focused on it for today, as we are here, the seemingly safe measures taken by this shuffle will do little in getting anyone to move ahead permanently. 

For a shuffle that was being seen as a fresh start, it was ultimately quite a major disappointment. In the most telling detailing that the government is not shifting course, no major economic portfolios changed hands. The ministers responsible for finance, natural resources, and the treasury board all stayed the same; which many have chalked up to having experienced hands on deck, but for a government that says Canada is on sound footing, it doesn't make a lick of sense to then say the economy is too fragile to change ministers on those issues.

As such, I think this is the clearest example that there is no seismic shift in direction coming, which ultimately makes one wonder why we needed a cabinet shuffle at all (and more on that later)...

Harper also took to twitter to make announcements regarding his changes, which is perhaps the only real notable event from today. Though, anyone who honestly believes it was Harper himself tweeting as opposed to some staffer in the PMO probably also believes that wrestling is real. So, while it was interesting to see this technology included in the day's events, I don't really know whether it added anything over all. If it included more than just the boiler "happy to name blank to the ministry of blank" it would have been more interesting and insightful, but since it wasn't, it seemed more like a ploy to make the PM seem up to date with that there new fangled technology the kids are always chirping about. 

Now, lets talk about women. Harper was beaming about the addition of 4 new women to cabinet...though, in reality, it's only a net gain of 2 given the resignations of Majority LeBreton and Diane Ablonczy. So, we lost 2 women in the process to gain 4...And while those 2 loses were triggered by resignations rather than by removal, it's still disappointing to see the addition of only 2 women overall as a Great Leap Forward for women in cabinet. It's great to see more representation in cabinet, no doubt, but there's still a long way to go and adding 2 women and acting like its the most any PM has ever done ever doesn't cut it.

And while we're on the subject of most any PM has done ever; small government conservatives are likely continuing to curse under their breath as the federal cabinet remains amongst one of the largest cabinets in Canadian history, with 39 members. Add that to the fact that the public service has grown, at least in the media and "presentation management" departments, and I'm sure there's a lot of small government conservatives who are wondering what to do come the next election...or at the very least, the next convention. 

Speaking of the public service; we also have to talk about the report from Global News stating that departments prepared missives for new ministers that sought to blacklist organizations, bureaucratic members, and reporters that were deemed outside of the government's image and agenda. In simpler terms, the politically neutral civil service was asked to engage in partisan behaviour by identifying groups and individuals for specific ministries that would be apt to avoid for the future minister.

Among these groups were environmental groups, non-profits, and the like. While the government claims the request for reporters and troublesome bureaucrats were removed, and that this is standard practice, it's still worrisome to be reminded of how petty and singleminded this government is with their "us or them" mentality. 

Finally, lets talk about the optics of the change. Very few members were actively shuffled out of cabinet; if my count is right, only 4 people were booted out (along with 3 who resigned/will not be running in 2015) while the rest played a game of musical chairs and switched portfolios. Peter Mackay, who has arguably been a disaster at Defence, faced no consequences for his procurement issues or vacation helicopter rides and was sided off to Justice in a straight swap with Rob Nicholson. 

Garry Ritz, another under performer, kept his post at Agriculture (perhaps because there's no other qualified Saskatchewan MP to serve in cabinet to keep numbers balanced) despite food safety cuts and concerns. And Tony Clement, the loser of $3.1 billion dollars in terrorism funding, faced no repercussions at all and kept his posting at the treasury board despite a clear lack of economic management skills.

Peter Kent was rightfully tossed from Environment, but his partner in crime and equally befuddling Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver kept his post. Gordon O'Connor lost his post as Whip, likely due to his inability to control backbenchers during this last session (for House of Cards viewers, he certainly was no Francis Urquhart [UK Viewers] or Frank Underwood [US viewers]). 

Steven Fletcher and Keith Ashfield were also removed completely, though most people may have forgotten that these two were even in cabinet in the first place. (It's not really a slight against Fletcher or Ashfield, it's hard enough to make the news in a junior ministry let alone when your caucus is completely riddled by scandal after scandal.)

If anything, the overarching message remains pretty clear based on swaps and complete removals: there is almost nothing you can do as a Harper minister to get the Order of the Boot. Mackay and Clement, even still Government House Leader Peter Van Loan, have fouled up and have had calls for their resignation from the opposition and politically minded Canadians alike...Yet, none of them found themselves on the chopping block. 

Kent may be gone from environment, which will please a lot of people, but was his removal due to his inefficiency as a minister OR as a prelude to the US pro-Keystone lobby to show movement on Canada's environment file? I would lean towards the latter and say political expediency prompted Kent's removal, rather than any other deciding factor. 

When we get right down to it, this swap is effectively worthless. Too many of the same old faces linger around the cabinet table, even if they are in different roles. And to really get down to brass tacks, the PMO continues to be the true guiding force behind ministries now, as opposed to the actual ministers. What the PM says goes, and a change of the face and voice that speaks the PM's words is not a change at all.

1 comment:

the salamander said...

Excellent analysis .. Its difficult (may cause eyes to glaze over) to quickly review 39 partisan zealots and the pertinent aspect of their zombie shuffling.. or advancement to cabinet.

One suggestion .. Watch carefully, the return of Gail Shea to Fisheries and Oceans which is so closely interlocked with Environment and with Natural Resources. She is an unapologetic pro farm salmon advocate, comfortable working with related incompetents, deceivers and suppressors like Gary Ritz

Keith Ashfield did nothing but bog down, bungle, suppress and obstruct truth, science and marine biology in perfect lip sync harmony with Peter Kent. How will the equally pedantic Gail Shea twist and shout alongside the bizarrely partisan and shrill MP Aglukkaq ?

The Harper attack on the Canadian environment was led by the ignorant and mealy mouthed, moth eaten Joe Oliver, Peter Kent and Ashfield.. What will be the cumulative impact of the new troika speaking in political tongues for the PMO and Harper?

I believe the mainstream media will turn on all of them .. as well as flay any supposed 'legacy' that any of them assume they may deserve. Poisoned waters, infected fish, leaking pipelines .. toxic policies, electoral fraud .. may turn out to be not just unpopular .. but un-defendable ..