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Harper’s message to business: steady as she goes

After seven years in government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sent a strong message to businesses across Canada today: on the economy, it's steady as she goes.

While much of the talk surrounding today's cabinet shuffle will inevitably centre on new faces, promotions and demotions, the big story is that this shuffle demonstrates a continued focus on economic stability. With an eye to keeping steady hands at the top, the Prime Minister has ensured that the economic decision-makers of this government have all been kept in their portfolios.

Most importantly, the Finance Minister has been asked to stay on in his role. Although this position has been the source of much speculation over the past several weeks, the Prime Minister has chosen to keep Mr. Flaherty on. He is seen as the minister who has guided the country through the economic crisis and managed to bring it out unscathed on the other side. As the Dean of G7 Finance Ministers, this sends a message of stability and continuity to Bay Street, Wall Street and financial markets around the world.

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The Prime Minister has long made it evident that he feels that Canada's economic future lies in two key areas: resource development and trade.

By keeping both Joe Oliver and Ed Fast in their current roles, he is assuring that the progress that has already been made in these departments will not be stalled by the introduction of new ministers who would have to take the time to be briefed on the intricacies of each of these files. It also demonstrates a confidence in the work that has been done to date and their ability to successfully resolve complicated files such as the ongoing trade negotiations with the European Union and pipeline development.

Mr. Fast in particular will play a key role going forward as the Prime Minister has reinforced again and again his focus on trade as a driver of Canada's economy today and in the future. A critical point for the government is moving beyond our country's historical concentration on the U.S. as a trade partner and diversifying into Asia and Europe. Changing Mr. Fast would have sent a signal of weakness to the European Union at a late stage in free-trade negotiations – something Harper was likely to loathe having to do.

There has been some change, though. James Moore, the most senior minister from B.C., has been promoted to Minister of Industry. Having kept a firm hand on the notoriously difficult and byzantine Heritage portfolio since 2008, Mr. Moore will now be heading to a department that is facing a host of issues, most notably surrounding the wireless spectrum. He handled some of these telecom issues at Heritage, and now he gets to own the file.

His ability to manage sensitive issues while maintaining an open communications strategy and good relationships with stakeholders are just some of the reasons why the Prime Minister will have placed him in this portfolio. Expect a minister who will be thoroughly engaged and bring a higher profile back to this department that has faded a bit in the past years. Mr. Moore has been making a name for himself – and his profile will increase with this new gig.

One of the things I watched for in this cabinet: did the newcomers get any big jobs? Were they given real responsibilities? The answer: a strong yes.

From Chris Alexander in Immigration to Shelly Glover in Heritage, greenhorns are getting a taste of the big leagues. Ms. Glover has even been named to the all-powerful Priorities and Planning Cabinet Committee: the inner sanctum where all key decisions are made. And the PM has put two very capable women in place to deal with two of his biggest headaches: Diane Finley, to clean up the government's procurement files, and Lisa Raitt, to deal with the fallout from the devastating Lac-Mégantic disaster at Transport.

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Since 2008 this Prime Minister has run on a message of economic stability and growth. It has been the party's bread and butter. Pick your metaphor: "the leopard will not change it spots", "dance with the one that brung ya"…today sends a very strong signal: the Conservatives will win or lose the next election on their management of the economy.

Jason Lietaer is a principal at ENsight Canada. He has worked for the federal Conservatives and Ontario Progressive Conservatives.

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