What gets to me most about MP John Duncan effectively being shown the door from his post as the Minister of Aboriginal affairs Friday afternoon is how it was done. Releasing bombshell news on a Friday at 4pm, before a long weekend and/or an upcoming constituency week (where MPs return to their ridings to attend to local matters) has now become a gutless Conservative go-to strategy to avoid media and opposition backlash. Regardless, tactics aside, there are some more important issues behind this.
The government’s smoke and mirrors justification for Duncan’s ‘resignation’ reveals a few different things. This move seems to be about replacing an under-performing Cabinet minister, sending a wake-up call to the Conservative caucus and starting a larger Cabinet re-structuring process.
Let’s face it, Duncan made an absolute mess of things during the Attawapiskat housing crisis in 2011 (see here, here and here) and has not done himself any favours by disappearing during the Idle No More movement. In staying silent since the movement started and routinely sending in his parliamentary secretary, Greg Rickford, to Question Period, Duncan has proven himself to be deadweight.
In addition to cracking the whip on Duncan’s shenanigans, this will send reverberations throughout the Conservative caucus and have all Cabinet Ministers on high alert. I think Minister of Environment Peter Kent is one who should definitely be watching his back as Harper begins to trim the fat. Primarily because he has a more-than-capable parliamentary secretary, Michelle Rempel, who is waiting in the wings to snap up the position and take the reins. Strategically speaking, sacking Duncan will also serve to motivate those in the caucus who feel they’re within touching distance of a cabinet position.
Overall, a Cabinet overhaul seems to be in order in the near future. In addition to Kent, Christian Paradis (Industry) who has been involved in three different ethics investigations also seems set for the axe. While Peter Mackay (Defence) has turned the government military procurement plan into a national joke and Vic Toews (Public Safety) comments on crime bills have left Conservatives cringing. With an election 2 years away, shuffling the deck on the cabinet seems to be a risky maneuver. However resilient, Tory polling numbers have begun to show cracks as last week’s figures saw support at below 30% for only the second time since 2011.
Harper’s need to address the weakness of his Cabinet members is also due to the fact that he likes to keep power extremely centralised. The Prime Minister’s Office, his immediate advisors, and select ministers exert the most influence within the party, and this leaves others in the party out in the wilderness. The problem is that in appointing 3rd rate candidates to cabinet positions, knowing that their actual influence will be limited, doesn’t change the fact that they are still expected to handle complex and robust government portfolios.
I understand Harper is the ultimate micro-manager, the supreme decider and the steady hand of the Conservatives. After all, he has a majority government for a reason and has impressively carved out a road to lead his party to power. However as the party’s elite implements their legislative agenda, leaving too many out of the loop could do more harm than good.
(Featured photo: BC Gov Photos, Creative Commons, Flickr)