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From Likely Contenders to Dark Horses for Foreign Affairs, Trade

Friday, October 31, 2008 > 15:11:58

(Embassy – Jeff Davis & Michelle Collins via I.E. Canada)

When the dust settled after the election, two top Cabinet ministers had disappeared from the political scene. In their wake are vacancies in two of the most senior positions: minister of foreign affairs and minister of international trade.

With these vacancies and others, Prime Minister Stephen Harper must make at least a medium-sized shuffle to his cabinet, with indications the new ministers will be unveiled on Thursday morning.

There is considerable interest in the prestigious foreign posts. Savvy ministers will be needed to bear Canada's standard abroad and fill the sizable shoes left by David Emerson and Michael Fortier.

The shuffle could also see changes at the junior minister level. Rising stars could be promoted and tested in these waters, while current underperformers could be returned to the backbenches.

Here are the shuffle's players and possibilities, ranging from likely contenders to long-shot hopefuls.


Jim Prentice
In the House since 2004. Became industry minister in August 2007 after serving as minister of Indian affairs and northern development from February 2006. Is regional minister for Alberta, chair of the Operations Committee of Cabinet, and oversees Canada's pipelines. Before politics, specialized in property rights law and served as a commissioner of the Indian Specific Claims Commission of Canada for 10 years. Holds a bachelor's of commerce and a bachelor of laws from Dalhousie.
Why: Speculation he could take the foreign affairs file has been hot in recent weeks. Over the past two years, he has proven himself as one of the government's most reliable, articulate, savvy and competent ministers.
Why Not: While likely ripe for promotion, he already has an A-list file he may want to keep. In addition, the buzz is that Mr. Harper may leave critical economic portfolios alone during the ongoing financial crisis.

Lawrence Cannon
Has been transport minister since first elected to the House in January 2006. Was a member of Quebec's National Assembly from 1985 to 1994 and a Gatineau city councillor from 2001 until 2005. Has a bachelor of arts in political science and a master's in business administration. Was a private sector consultant before entering politics.
Why: Fluently bilingual, the trusted Quebec deputy of the prime minister, and a solid minister of transport. There is a lot of buzz he could take the foreign affairs file, and word around town is that he has been pushing for the spot behind the scenes.
Why Not: The Cabinet is sorely lacking in Quebecers, the position of Quebec deputy needs a lot of attention, and one wonders who could replace him in this role. The travel-heavy foreign affairs file could interfere with his Quebec duties, while the gravy-train post of transport minister meshes well with these duties.

Tony Clement
Since elected in January 2006, has been health minister and minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario. Sat in Ontario's legislature from 1995 until 2003 and filled a number of portfolios, including transportation, environment and health. Has a law degree from the University of Toronto and has been counsel to a national law firm.
Why: Has an abundance of Cabinet experience in both the federal and Ontario governments, and is considered reliable and professional. In addition, the health file is challenging and tedious. A possible future Conservative leadership contender. Buzz is that he has been lobbying hard for the trade post, perhaps to beef up his resume for the future.
Why Not: While he has a law background, Mr. Clement is sorely lacking in international trade experience. But there are few obvious contenders for the trade post, and Mr. Clement is due for a promotion.

Peter MacKay
In the House since 1997. Was appointed foreign affairs minister in February 2006 and moved to defence in August 2007. Is minister for Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities and Agency. Before politics, was a Crown attorney in provincial, family and Supreme Court and received Queen's Counsel designation in 2006. Was one of the central figures in uniting the Progressive Conservative and Alliance parties in 2003.
Why: Seen as a capable Cabinet minister who did an adequate job as foreign minister when he held the post, and has proven himself as able to handle difficult files. Could be summoned back if Mr. Harper is desperate.
Why Not: Has largely managed to keep the lid on Afghan war controversy following Gordon O'Connor's disastrous turn as defence minister. Was largely uninspired as foreign affairs minister. Seems to enjoy the position of defence minister.

Stockwell Day
Former leader of the opposition Alliance Party in the House from 2000 until 2002. Has been public safety minister since February 2006. Served in the Alberta Legislature from 1986 until 2000. Has a background in business and community service.
Why: Has emerged as one of the most reliable and least gaffe-prone ministers in the government. In addition, has built excellent working relationships with U.S. counterparts, which are at a premium with imminent changes in Washington.
Why Not: Lacking depth of knowledge of international affairs, and carries a bit of notoriety as a Christian creationist. Chances are he will stay put at public safety to keep a steady hand on the tiller as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security undergoes sweeping changes.

Jason Kenney
In the House since 1997. Secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity since 2007. Was parliamentary secretary to the prime minister in February 2006. Before politics, was president and CEO of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation. Has a bachelor degree in philosophy.
Why: One of the PM's most loyal, trusted and effective executors.
Why Not: Did an excellent job wooing ethnic voters and PM may want to leave him in his place. Also a bit of a loose cannon on controversial issues like China.

John Baird
First elected in January 2006. Was named president of the Treasury Board before moving to Environment. Was a member of the Ontario legislature from 1995 until 2006 and served as government house leader and ministers of community and social services, and energy. Prior to that, was a special assistant to Perrin Beatty, then-Canada's minister of communications and secretary of state for external affairs. Has a bachelor of arts in political studies from Queen's University.
Why: A very close ally and trusted executor of the prime minister. Tends to be assigned to controversial portfolios where his combative, give-no-quarter style can be used to defend the government's soft flanks. Has shown an ability to swim when thrown into water.
Why Not: The environment file remains perhaps the toughest and bitterest, considering the government's slack climate change stance. A steady hand (or fist?) is needed.


Helena Guergis
Secretary of state for foreign affairs and international trade since August 2007. Has represented the government through trips to Latin American and Georgia. Also oversees Sport Canada. Was first elected in 2004. Has served as adviser to Ontario ministers of finance and education, and, prior to politics, ran a small business and was active in her community.
Why: Has served as an attractive interlocutor to dispatch on diplomatic visits of minor importance. Also one of the few female ministers in a government sorely lacking in women.
Why Not: Generally regarded as a lightweight and someone who resorts to personal attacks when questioned. Has also bungled and dropped the thorny consular affairs file, and paid a heavy price in the media.

Bob Dechert
Newly elected. Has more than 20 years experience with international corporate law and is a senior partner with Gowling Lafleur Hendersen. Is past president of the Empire Club of Canada and the British-Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Helped unite the Conservative Party.
Why: Has proven himself a party loyalist and seems to have some professional gravitas. This, combined with his background, could make him an attractive man to put on the trade file, maybe even at minister level
Why Not: While he has the background, it would be a big jump to full minister, and one that could spark caucus jealousies. Would also face a trial by fire in Question Period.

Deepak Obhrai
Parliamentary secretary to the ministers of foreign affairs since February 2006 and to the CIDA minister since March 2008. Also founded the Canada-India Parliamentary Friendship Group. Long active in the Indo-Canadian community. Was elected in 1997 under the former Reform Party. Helped create the Conservative Party and supported Stephen Harper's leadership campaign.
Why: Has good relations with the diplomatic corps, has travelled extensively around the world, and has performed well as a junior minister. Has also had time to familiarize himself with Canada's ongoing foreign affairs and trade files. Could be promoted to secretary of state, or at least left in place.
Why Not: Would be a big jump to full minister, but the well-liked and affable Mr. Obhrai could be up for a promotion.

Laurie Hawn
First elected in 2006, named parliamentary secretary to the minister of national defence in October 2007. Spent 30 years in the Royal Canadian Air Force and was a lieutenant-colonel, serving in Europe and the U.S. Retired in 1994 and opened financial services offices.
Why: Has worked quietly and reliably behind the scenes on the defence file, and seems to get along well with his boss, Defence Minister Peter MacKay. Another steady hand.
Why Not: May not be considered A-level Cabinet material, and already holds a junior minister position. Chances are he stays with Mr. MacKay at DND.

Kevin Sorenson
Chair of the foreign affairs committee since 2006 and a member of the sub-committee on international human rights. First elected in 2000. Served as the Official Opposition's senior solicitor-general critic and deputy critic for justice. Before politics, owned and operated his family farm and a small auction company.
Why: Has gained a degree of experience on the foreign affairs file from his post as chair of foreign affairs committee, and meets regularly with foreign diplomats to hear their concerns. With this experience under his belt, he could be up for a promotion.
Why not: Not a minister or parliamentary secretary, and thus still a low-ranking member. This makes him a long-shot for the top posts, but possible contender for junior minister position.

James Moore
Appointed secretary of state for the 2010 Olympics and the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Official Languages in June 2008. Has also served as parliamentary secretary to the ministers of public works and of the Pacific Gateway. Was first elected in 2000 at the age of 24 and served as deputy foreign affairs critic and senior transport critic. Prior to politics, worked in broadcasting in Vancouver.
Why: Has been dabbling in the foreign and trade files in his current capacities, and has been steadily gaining profile over the past year. In addition, did the dirty work defending his party in the House of Commons against attacks on the Cadman Affair. For this job, the PM likely owes him one.
Why Not: At 32, still young with a potentially long career ahead of him. But in a Cabinet already full of white, male, westerners, he will likely have to be content with his current posts for now.

Peter Kent
Newly elected. Is a veteran broadcast journalist and has reported on events all around the world, including the Yom Kippur War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and even the rise of the Conservative Party in 2005. Is active in many community organizations.
Why: Has executive experience and could be an inspired choice for a junior minister, or even senior minister. Gained a broad array of international experience through his journalism career, and like most journalists, is likely a good communicator and fast learner.
Why Not: It could ruffle a lot of feathers within the party if he is promoted ahead of party loyalists who have languished for years in the backbenches.

Lisa Raitt
Newly elected. Was president and CEO of the Toronto Port Authority and was chair of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities. Has a master's in chemistry from the University of Guelph and her LLB from Osgoode Hall Law School. Specialized in international trade, commerce, transportation and arbitration.
Why: Qualified and capable women are desperately needed in the Conservative Cabinet. If Mr. Harper sees a future minister in Ms. Raitt, she will likely be made a junior minister so she can start the grooming process.
Why Not: Could be tough to promote over other women, such as Diane Ablonczy, who have remained in the backbenches since the government took power.

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