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More cabinet ministers mean more money and more votes

Conservative MPs Peter Kent, Diane Ablonczy, Ted Menzies and Julian Fantino wait to be sworn in during a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall on Jan. 4, 2011.


Being a cabinet minister has its perks: prestige, the opportunity to serve Canadians in an important way, and a hefty $75,516.00 bonus, on top of the $157,731.00 yearly salary of an MP. But in addition to these benefits, cabinet ministers also have a better chance of being re-elected than their backbench colleagues.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper shuffled his cabinet, naming Peter Kent as the country's new Minister of the Environment. An analysis of the last two elections indicates that Mr. Kent, along with other Conservatives who became ministers for the first time after the 2008 election, will likely have more money to spend in the next campaign and be better able to withstand or exceed any regional shifts in Conservative support.

In the last election, Conservative candidates spent a little over $19-million, averaging out to about $63,000.00 per riding. But the amount spent by each candidate can vary widely. The Tories spent only $5,590.00 in Gilles Duceppe's Montreal riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, while over $100,000.00 was spent to elect Lisa Raitt in the Toronto-area riding of Halton.

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But it is clear that ridings with cabinet ministers get a greater share of electoral funding. An average of over $72,000.00 was spent in ridings held by Conservative cabinet ministers in the 2008 election, compared to less than $68,000.00 in ridings held by incumbent backbenchers, according to calculations based on the data available at Pundits' Guide.

Cabinet ministers can raise a lot of money locally - then-health minister Ujjal Dosanjh had raised over $200,000.00 locally for the 2006 election, while Peter MacKay, Bev Oda, Tony Clement, and Jim Flaherty attracted total donations of over $100,000.00 in their ridings for the 2008 campaign. And when a cabinet minister's riding association is lacking funds, the national headquarters steps in to fill the gap.

With more money and political capital to spend, cabinet ministers have tended to out-perform the electoral exploits of their own parties. In the losing 2006 campaign, rookie Liberal ministers lost, on average, 1.9 points compared to their 2004 electoral performances. Nationally, however, the party had lost 6.5 points. Rather than lose support at the same rate as the party as a whole, these Liberals did about 10 per cent better than other Grit candidates in each region of the country.

For example, Mr. Dosanjh's share of the vote increased to 48 per cent from 45 in his riding of Vancouver South, while fellow West Coast cabinet minister David Emerson's vote went to 44 per cent from 40. This growth came despite the Liberals dropping to 28 per cent from 29 in the province as a whole. In his riding of Outremont, transport minister Jean Lapierre saw his vote slip to 35 per cent in 2006 from 41 in 2004, but that was a far better performance than the catastrophic 13-point loss the Liberals suffered in Quebec.

It was a similar situation in the 2008 campaign, when the entire Conservative cabinet presented themselves to their constituents as ministers for the first time in an election. While the party increased its support by 1.4 points nationally, ministers saw their support grow by an average of 2.8 points. Regionally, they out-performed their parties by a modest 2 per cent.

There were a few standouts. Peter Van Loan increased his support by nine points in the riding of York-Simcoe while Mr. Clement's share of the vote increased by 10 points in Parry Sound-Muskoka, outstripping the four point gain the Tories made in Ontario. And in Quebec, then labour minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn saw his share of the vote increase in Jonquière-Alma, despite the Conservatives losing three points in the province.

Awarding ministerial positions is a way for the Prime Minister to demonstrate his faith in an MP, and reward them for good service in the trenches as a backbencher or parliamentary secretary. But it is also a way to boost the party's and the individual's profile and give them both a better chance at holding on to their seat. With this in mind, one of the reasons behind the promotions of Peter Kent and Julian Fantino, two MPs from the Conservatives' targeted GTA, becomes more obvious.

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Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at

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