OTTAWA (Reuters) - When Prime Minister Stephen Harper decides this week on a cabinet for his second term in office, he appears certain to keep Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in his post to help combat the financial crisis.
“You can’t announce to the world that there is a crisis and then fire the finance minister. He’s not going anywhere,” a senior ministerial staffer said on Monday on condition of anonymity.
Flaherty has been the face of Canada’s multi-billion dollar effort to protect the nation’s economy and banking system from the global liquidity crisis, including recent plans to purchase bank mortgage assets and guarantee interbank lending.
Harper’s Conservative team won reelection on October 14 with a strengthened minority in Parliament. Ministers’ chiefs of staff have been told to have their bosses ready for a possible swearing-in of cabinet late this week.
Speculation has mounted about various cabinet permutations but the one thing that is constant is that Flaherty, finance minister throughout Harper’s 2-1/2-year first term, will stay.
“This would be the worst time to change your finance minister, absolutely the worst time,” said another senior Conservative.
Harper is meeting Flaherty and his staff on Tuesday in Ottawa to prepare for international finance ministers meetings in Peru and Brazil, taking place next month as part of a global effort to address the financial turmoil.
Flaherty has been at the center of efforts to contain the effects on Canada of the international financial crisis, and in the second half of the five-week election campaign he spent much time in Ottawa at the Finance Department rather than stumping for Harper.
He has said Canada’s economy is sound, and he says he will offer Canadian banking regulation up as a model to be followed by other countries, but he also says that Canada’s federal budget might slip into deficit next year.
Defense Minister Peter MacKay, whose biggest responsibility is overseeing Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan, is also widely seen by senior conservative party members staying where he is in the new cabinet lineup.
The two biggest holes to fill in the new cabinet are those being vacated by heavyweights Foreign Minister David Emerson, who did not run again, and Trade Minister Michael Fortier, who lost his bid for a seat in Parliament.
Harper will be particularly keen to make sure the next foreign minister is someone of gravitas, senior Conservative party members said. He had to put Emerson in the portfolio in May to replace Maxime Bernier, who had left classified documents in the apartment of a former girlfriend who was once linked to organized crime figures.
Industry Minister Jim Prentice is a leading candidate for foreign affairs because of his steady hand and facility in both English and French.
But he is also effectively Harper’s right-hand man, chairing the powerful cabinet Operations Committee that runs the government’s day-to-day business, and it is considered impractical to do that and travel as foreign minister too.
Harper may also be reluctant to move him from industry at a time of economic turmoil, Conservative sources said.
Other leading candidates for foreign affairs include Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon, the highest-profile minister from Quebec, and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.
Among those mentioned for trade are two who have proved steady in their portfolios, Health Minister Tony Clement and Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl, and possibly rookie Member of Parliament Bob Dechert, an international trade lawyer. However, some feel it would be too big a jump for him.
Thursday or Friday are the most likely days for the cabinet to be unveiled. One strike against Friday is that it is also Halloween, opening the possibility for “scary cabinet” headlines the next day.