Fantino replaces Oda
OTTAWA—Prime Minister Stephen Harper swiftly shuffled his front benches yesterday following the resignation of embattled International Co-operation minister Bev Oda.
The hole created by Oda’s resignation on Tuesday had been expected to be filled later this summer in what could have been a wide-ranging shake-up, but ended up being only a minor change.
“That’s it. There is not going to be any more,” Andrew MacDougall said.
“Everybody has got their portfolios, they have a lot of work in those portfolios,” he noted.
“A lot is ongoing and the prime minister in particular wanted continuity.”
The lack of a major cabinet shuffle prompted critics to accuse the Harper government of being blind to problems in its midst.
Oda had been one of those problems. She was embroiled in a series of scandals through her years in government, culminating recently in revelations of spending excesses at a conference in London.
She resigned under intense pressure from caucus and from the public.
She was replaced by Julian Fantino, the government’s front man on the fumbled F-35 file.
His responsibilities as associate minister of defence, meanwhile, were handed off to New Brunswick MP Bernard Valcourt, also the minister of state for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
Fantino previously had been tasked with the complicated business of military procurement, including the controversy surrounding the purchase of new fighter jets.
He stick-handled the F-35 file for the government until it finally was shunted into the hands of a government advisory committee.
Defence minister Peter MacKay was one of the ministers rumoured to be up for a change this summer as he’s also been dogged by the controversy over fighter-jet spending.
Speculation also had been that Harper may promote some of his rookie MPs to more senior positions in a bid to freshen the public face of his caucus.
NDP MP Charlie Angus said he wasn’t surprised Harper didn’t clean house.
“This is a prime minister who gets really stubborn,” he charged. “So it took Bev Oda having to quit to really making a move.
“It’s not good enough. . . . He needs to set the reset button, but he’s either too obstinate or too blind to do it,” added Angus.
“So he’s shuffled cards with the mediocre. He has not attempted to bring any new blood in.
“And I think it’s going to stick to him.”
Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett said the lack of a broader shuffle speaks to Harper’s belief that he’s always right.
“It’s pretty difficult for a prime minister to be giving a failing grade to ministers who were merely following orders,” she argued.
“He obviously isn’t prepared to admit there have been some pretty weak performances and pretty weak ministers, in spite of the fact he makes all the decisions.”