Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Cabinet Shuffle ... More Of The Same With A New Focus

So, yesterday Stephen Harper rolled out his old-new cabinet.  Colour me unimpressed.

The the first scandal to escape this new cabinet was that the PMO instructed ministers who are leaving / moving to new offices to create transition documents which contain a list of "enemies" in the bureaucracy.  This is serious simply because it tells us that we have a political government which after seven years in power still has not learned to work with the stakeholders and bureaucrats who are assigned with carrying out the government's wishes.  Unsurprising though, when you consider that this was the same government who issued a manual to MPs in 2006 about how to disrupt the business of parliament.

The restructuring of cabinet however, does not signify any of the things that Canadians might have been seeking.  Harper left Peter van Loan in his existing role, and brings Pierre Poilievre into cabinet.  For those who were hoping to see a less combative government in the second half of its tenure, this is a disappointment.  For the rest of us who long ago recognized that Harper's approach to things is pugilistic because the man is himself a bully, this comes as no real surprise.

Much has been made of the number of women in Harper's cabinet.  Frankly, I am unimpressed.  Harper has pushed out his most senior women who could effectively hold senior cabinet posts, and brought in a few more youthful women into junior posts.  The message is clear enough - if you are female, you don't have what it takes to run a senior portfolio - that space is reserved for the boys.

The most interesting appointments in cabinet, in my view, are Jason Kenney and Pierre Poilievre.  Jason Kenney moved from Immigration to the Minister of Employment and Social Development, and Poilievre to Democratic Reform.

Given recent changes to programs such as EI, I'm going to guess that Harper is about to unveil the next phase in his war on Canada's middle classes.  He wants Kenney there because like the heavy-handed reforms Harper/Kenney rammed through Canada's immigration system, Harper knows that he can trust Kenney to be just as mean-spiritied as Harper himself. 

Since 2006, Harper has systematically attacked Canada's middle classes on several levels.  First has been a continual increase of the number of "Temporary Foreign Workers" that are allowed into the country.  No matter how I look at this, it has become a tool for employers to drive down wages across the board.  Concurrently, they have turned Employment Insurance into something that is far less available to Canadians and pushes those seeking work into jobs regardless of whether the individual is suited to them.  Again, this has the effect of pushing down earnings and places workers at the mercy of employers whose sole interest is ultimately to minimize their costs.

As for "democratic reform", this portfolio seems to have been fundamentally a placeholder.  A way for Harper to claim that he is doing something about the democratic deficit issues in Canada and thereby keeping an old promise.  The reality is that he is far more likely to be taking apart Canada's democracy, and any changes that a minister in this position will be allowed to make will exist for the sole purpose of ensuring that the Conservatives are "the natural governing party", or that another party will be so hamstrung that undoing much of what Harper has wrought will be next to impossible.

In short, this is a cabinet shuffle which hints at some new directions for the Harper Government, but it does not signal a change in the government itself - it will remain ugly and hostile to the interest of average Canadians.

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