Prime Minister Stephen Harper put a slightly new face on his cabinet Tuesday, demoting one minister, bringing in two newcomers, and leaving his heavy-hitters in place.
Officials originally said the shuffle would involve only “tweaking,” but it snowballed into a larger operation involving 10 ministers.
It comes at a time when the government needs a distraction from the politically damaging effects of Harper’s pre-New Year’s decision to prorogue Parliament until March 3.
The resignation of Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson on the weekend started a domino effect that now involves Raitt being moved from Natural Resources to the low-profile Labour portfolio.
Raitt, who rocketed into cabinet within weeks of her first election win in October 2008, ran into trouble last year when she was caught on tape criticizing fellow ministers and referring to the medical isotope crisis as a “sexy” issue.
Raitt was on the hot seat again last fall, accused of questionable expenses when she was president of the Toronto Port Authority in 2008.
Ambrose gets second chance.
Albertan Rona Ambrose, another once high-profile woman who was seen as a disappointment in her first turn at Environment, is getting another chance at a big department, moving from Labour to Public Works.
Quebec MP Christian Paradis moves from Public Works to Natural Resources, which oversees such hot-button issues as oil sands development, the struggling forestry industry and the future of Atomic Energy of Canada.
And Stockwell Day takes over as president of the Treasury Board where he will be responsible for restraint as the government moves to rein in spending in the face of a $56-billion deficit.
Vic Toews moves from Treasury to Public Safety where he will have to deal with accountability issues at two key agencies: the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency.
Peter Van Loan moves from Public Safety to International Trade.
Junior minister Diane Ablonczy, who many consider an under-used talent, got a minor promotion to minister of state for seniors, a role of growing importance given the aging Canadian population.
Other changes include Jean-Pierre Blackburn, who goes from National Revenue to Veterans Affairs, replacing Thompson.
Two MPs, both from New Brunswick, were promoted to cabinet: Keith Ashfield takes over at Revenue and as minister for the Atlantic Gateway, and Rob Moore becomes junior minister for small business and tourism.
Ashfield takes the Atlantic portfolio from Peter MacKay, who keeps the high-profile Defence post. MacKay faced relentless opposition attack for his handling of the Afghan detainee file before Parliament was prorogued in December.
Other top names, such as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon remained untouched.
Former foreign minister Maxime Bernier, who resigned in embarrassment after leaving sensitive documents at his estranged girlfriend’s home, is not expected to stage a comeback during this cycle.
The cabinet members took the oath of office at Rideau Hall as Harper and Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean looked on, as is the tradition.
The decision to prorogue Parliament gives Harper a chance to fill five vacancies in a Senate and secure Conservative control of the Upper Chamber for the first time.
Recent opinion polls have indicated the Conservatives’ double-digit lead over the Liberals has shrunk to a few scant points — and in one case, to a virtual dead-heat.
A government official said the cabinet shuffle at this time gives new ministers time to read briefing books and become acquainted with their new portfolios before the resumption of Parliament in March.