Following an election victory on May 2 that gave the Conservative Party 166 seats in the 308-seat House of Commons, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is heading his first majority government; since 2006, he has led a plurality of Conservative members of Parliament (MPs) in a succession of minority governments that depended on opposition party support to pass legislation. The question many observers have been asking is how the composition of the cabinet in a Harper majority government might differ from his previous cabinets.
Yesterday, the new lineup was announced, and the answer is that it looks much like the old one. The most notable change is the appointment of Ottawa-area MP John Baird as Foreign Minister. Baird has been a loyal workhorse in past Harper cabinets, and replaces Lawrence Cannon, who failed to win re-election in his Montreal riding.
Other important cabinet portfolios with an international impact have retained their ministers: Jim Flaherty remains Finance Minister, Peter Mackay stays on as Minister of National Defence, Vic Toews continues as Minister of Public Safety, Beverley Oda is once again Minister for International Development. There are a few new faces, but in minor portfolios where they can gain experience.
The continuity in the new Harper cabinet is an indication of two things. First, the experience of managing two minority governments has given the prime minister a chance to see who the reliable performers in the Conservative caucus have been. The men and women Harper has selected for cabinet jobs in his majority government are those who have earned his trust and confidence in past minority governments. Second, the Prime Minister has sent a signal with his cabinet picks that he intends to maintain his course on policy, from the budget to foreign affairs to domestic policy.
For the international community, and for the United States, continuity in the new Canadian cabinet means that ongoing negotiations and relations can pick up where they left off before the election. However, foreign expectations of what the Canadian government can deliver are likely to rise, now that Harper commands a strong parliamentary majority and has lost the excuse that a minority government has for inaction.