Harper to conduct minor cabinet shuffle, no newcomers, heavyweights to stay put

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to announce a minor cabinet shuffle in the next few weeks.
Insiders describe the mini-shuffle as "fine-tuning" and "tweaking," in keeping with Harper's effort to produce a fresh government agenda for a new session of Parliament, slated to begin on March 3.
Cabinet heavyweights, including Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Defence Minister Peter MacKay, will stay put, according to insiders.
And there will be no new additions in the shuffle, which insiders say will come soon, although not as early as this week.
That would rule out the widely rumoured political second coming of Maxime Bernier, who was forced to resign as foreign affairs minister in May 2008 after admitting he'd left confidential government documents at the home of a girlfriend with past connections to the Hells Angels biker gang.
Speculation has been rife that Harper, who needs to bolster his weak Quebec team, would give Bernier a second chance. Bernier remains a popular figure in Quebec despite his ill-fated, gaffe-prone stint in cabinet.
That also rules out any attempt to shift MacKay out of the line of fire on the Afghan detainee issue.
There has been considerable speculation that Harper might shuffle MacKay from the Defence portfolio, where he's been in the hot seat over allegations that detainees handed over by Canadian soldiers to Afghan authorities were routinely tortured.
However, keeping MacKay in place is more consistent with Harper's steadfast refusal to admit the government mishandled the detainee dossier.
In essence, the shuffle is expected to amount to a handful of ministers swapping portfolios.
Among those thought to be ripe for a change is controversy-prone Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt.
Harper may be hoping a shuffle, however small, will help change the channel from his controversial decision to suspend Parliament, which was to have resumed work on Jan. 25, until early March.
In another potential channel changer, Harper is poised to fill five empty Senate seats with loyal Conservatives.
Harper has long accused the Liberal-dominated chamber of sabotaging his government's agenda. But with the new appointments, Conservatives will finally outnumber Liberals in the upper chamber.
Now, there are 49 Liberals and 46 Conservatives in the 105-seat Senate, along with two Progressive Conservatives, two independents, one unaffiliated senator (Anne Cools) and the five vacancies.
The new Tory senators will allow the government to control committees and force speedier passage of bills.
Among those rumoured to be under consideration for Senate posts are former Newfoundland cabinet minister Loyola Sullivan, Mulroney-era ministers Bernard Valcourt and Benoit Bouchard and Ontario Conservative MPP Bob Runciman.

Organizations: Conservatives

Geographic location: OTTAWA, Quebec, Newfoundland

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