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Thursday, July 25, 2013 

"The tide against the Conservatives will continue, because Harper isn't going to change a thing." Op Ed

Progressive Bloggers

A great article by former Saskatchewan MLA & Cabinet Minister Pat Atkinson ....

Harper 'change' cabinet retains mean face

"Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to hit the reset button with his cabinet shuffle, but he'll have to do better.As Harper was busy answering reporters' questions about his "change" cabinet, the one question that seemed to get him stuck was what he was going to do to change. He ducked the question.

The cabinet makeover was supposed to be a channel changer, but I'm not sure that it will stop Harper's political slide. While there are some new faces around his cabinet table, he still has significant challenges to overcome if the Conservatives are to get a fourth term and keep him in the prime minister's chair.

Let's face it. Harper doesn't exactly resonate all that well with women and young people, who appear to be more comfortable with the NDP and the Liberal party. Women and the new generation usually have a pretty good nose when it comes to those who feel the need to be in control and have a bit of a mean streak.

Harper's behaviour suggests he has both qualities. By increasing the number of women in cabinet and including some younger MPs, the prime minister is hoping to freshen his government's image, touting a message of gender equality and generational change along with a steady hand being provided by veteran ministers.

Yet what sticks out in his attempt at putting more women in cabinet is that the male guard remains responsible for Canada's fiscal and economic policies. It is the same old, same old, with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Treasury Board Chair Tony Clement, International Trade Minister Ed Fast and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver staying put. But one thing is for sure: You can get into Harper's cabinet if you have a nasty streak and stick to the PMO's endless talking points.

Several young backbench MPs who appeared regularly in the media to defend the government with their unpleasant barbs got promoted in the shuffle.

While two of these talking heads - Ontario MPs Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander - became full-fledged ministers, the most effective among this group, the able and gifted Calgary MP Michelle Rempel, now in her early 30s, is a junior Minister of State for Western Diversification. That's too bad. If Harper really were interested in putting a new face on his government he would have placed Rempel, who has the temerity to think on her own occasionally and communicate effectively, in a full cabinet position.

Watching the ministers swear their oath of office to freely express their opinions reminded me that it's their job to speak truth to power. And here's where having women in key cabinet positions and on influential cabinet committees could have made a difference if Harper really is prepared to let them speak and listen to what they have to say.

One of the things that struck me when I sat at the cabinet table in both the Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert governments was that the women, of whom there were good numbers, always expressed their views, even when "the boss" didn't want to hear it.

There were occasions when the premier needed to be reminded that he had put a woman in a cabinet position for a reason and he needed to pay attention. Fellow cabinet ministers such as Louise Simard, Carol Teichrob, Carol Carson, Joanne Crofford and Judy Junor had no difficulty advocating for policy changes they believed in.
All of these women were given assignments that meant something, and because of the breadth of their experience were listened to, whether the person hearing it liked it or not. Having more women occupy cabinet seats could mean something if these ministers are given some substantive goals. We'll have to wait to see if the next throne speech lays out a different agenda for any of the federal portfolios occupied by women. So, what does this cabinet shuffle mean in terms of improving the Conservatives' chances come the 2015 federal election? Very little, actually.
Harper remains the face of cabinet, and it is the face of the underlying negative social policies and attitudes, and the remoteness and meanness of the government - all of which are turning off a majority of Canadians.

Leaders of governments like to think that a shuffle "puts a new face" on their administration. It doesn't, because the same old key face remains. The tide against the Conservatives will continue, because Harper isn't going to change a thing.
Saskatoon Star Phoenix

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