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PM waiting until June to recall Parliament

A tourist boutique displays Parliament Hill magnets as pedestrians make their way along Ottawa's Sparks Street Mall on May 16, 2011.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Stephen Harper is expected to reveal the new face of his majority government with a cabinet shuffle as early as Wednesday - but will wait until June to recall Parliament.

The Conservatives announced Monday that MPs are returning to the Commons June 2 for a whirlwind session that will make headway on passing the 2011 budget before breaking for the summer. This new start date is a month after Mr. Harper secured a majority at the polls.

The Harper government will launch the sitting June 3 with a Speech from the Throne outlining its immediate agenda. This will repeat the themes the Conservatives sketched out for 36 days on the campaign trail: keeping taxes low, creating jobs, retiring the deficit and assisting the recovery.

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First, however, the Prime Minister must staff the jobs previously filled by six ministers in his cabinet ranks who are leaving Ottawa as a result of retirements or defeats in the May 2 election.

The shuffle promises to be more than a minor affair given the need to rebalance cabinet to reflect a massive breakthrough in the Toronto area - one that helped swell the Tory caucus by 15 per cent. Mr. Harper also must acknowledge that Newfoundland and Labrador gave the Tories a seat again after wiping Conservatives off the map in that province in 2008.

The most senior post to be staffed is Minister of Foreign Affairs after Lawrence Cannon's defeat in the election. It's the kind of position that could go to a star performer like Jason Kenney should Mr. Harper decide the Calgary MP's work is complete at Immigration.

In keeping with the focus on balancing Ottawa's books, one of the most important posts the Prime Minister must fill is the president of the Treasury Board. This job is relatively low-profile but its occupant will be king, or queen, of spending in Ottawa, responsible for reining in accounts so the Tories can balance the budget by the 2014-15 fiscal year as promised.

The Treasury Board president will be required to squeeze $4-billion in annual savings from government operations to help the Conservatives balance the budget a year earlier than the initial target of 2015-16. This restraint comes on top of another $6.2-billion over five years that Ottawa is also trying to wring from government operations to cut the deficit.

A strong-willed president can end up dampening the success rate for spending requests - as former Treasury Board chief John Baird did during the early Harper years. That's why Mr. Harper has to be at least considering putting Mr. Baird - one of his deftest ministers - back in the Treasury Board portfolio at least for the short term.

Other posts to fill include Transport, Veterans Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs. B.C. MP James Moore, now Heritage Minister, could readily make a shift to a post such as Transport, a portfolio he knows well from his years as opposition transport critic.

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Some of the speculation in Ottawa Monday centred on whether Mr. Harper would keep his cabinet relatively small to send a message of austerity to voters.

It would be hard to rein in the size of cabinet. Mr. Harper must include all regions when picking ministers, but must also ensure cabinet does not grow so large as to become unwieldy.

When he took power in 2006, the Prime Minister boasted about how his first cabinet was only 26 ministers, a deliberate attempt to contrast himself with former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, whose cabinet was 38 MPs strong.

In time, however, Mr. Harper's cabinet swelled to 38.

Mr. Baird, currently House Leader, said Monday that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will quickly reintroduce the budget that was rejected by the Commons in March when the Tories were still held to a minority. There will be only minor tweaks to it, sources said.

On June 2, their first day back, MPs will have to choose a Speaker for the Commons. It will be the first new Speaker since Peter Milliken, now retired, was elected to the post in 2001.

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There are at least six Conservative MPs running for the Speaker's chair - a post that is selected by secret ballot in the Commons.

Three of them - Andrew Scheer from Regina, Barry Devolin from central Ontario, and Merv Tweed from Brandon, Man. - were also in the running in 2008 but lost to Mr. Milliken, who was first elected Speaker in 2001.

Mr. Scheer is bilingual and Mr. Devolin speaks passable French. Both have served as deputy Speakers.

Dean Alison, a Conservative MP from the Niagara Region, is testing the waters.

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About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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