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Harper’s shuffle makes sense both inside and out

John Ibbitson's analysis of this week's federal Cabinet shuffle draws a bead on its most important implication: sending a signal to 905 area code voters that Stephen Harper wants their votes.

As choices go, Mr. Harper's GTA picks are pretty good ones. Both Julian Fantino and Peter Kent are highly visible people, accomplished in their respected fields and interesting to voters in part because they have not been career politicians.

Sometimes the hardest work that goes into a shuffle, from the standpoint of a prime minister, isn't getting the external message right, but managing the internal fallout that invariably accompanies any change in the Cabinet line-up.

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For every person who gets a promotion, there might be as many as five who wonder why not them. The dictates of regional representation help ease this problem somewhat, but not entirely. The longer a government is in office, and the closer to facing an election, the more challenging it becomes for a PM to manage expectations. Some who aspire to cabinet roles eventually tire of waiting and leave. Others can grow bitter and inclined to take pot-shots at their own government. Mr. Harper has experienced remarkably few such problems.

By keeping the shuffle modest in size, Mr. Harper capped the number of noses he was going to put out of joint. Promoting Minister Kent and MP Fantino will seem, to other Ontario Conservative caucus members, politically logical and hard to argue with.

In promoting Diane Ablonzcy, and bringing Ted Menzies into cabinet, the Prime Minister has rewarded talent, but this is where he has probably also experienced the most risk of disappointment. A highly respected Parliamentarian like James Rajotte may have felt that this was his moment of opportunity. Still, the federal Conservatives are polling far, far ahead of their nearest competitors in Alberta, and there is no reason to believe this shuffle will disappoint provincial voters in general, quite the contrary.

In sum, this shuffle was probably a bit bigger in strategic terms than its numbers suggested. It strengthens the Conservative front bench in the province that will feature the largest number closely fought Liberal and Conservative battles. It replaces a talented departing Alberta minister with a talented new one, and promotes another whose work has long been well regarded.

Externally, many open minded voters will see this as a competent and promising series of choices. Internally, it is unlikely to provoke unrest: The consensus will probably be that the PM's judgment was sound, even if all ambitions and hopes could not be realized.

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About the Author
Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson is the chairman of polling firm Abacus Data, a regular member of the At Issue panel on CBC’s The National and a founding partner of i2 Ideas and Issues Advertising. He has done polls for Liberal and Conservative politicians but no longer does any partisan work. More

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