OTTAWA/VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave his cabinet a minor shuffle on Friday, saying there was no need for an election now, but appointing a minister with a combative reputation as House leader.
John Baird, who had been minister of transportation, takes over as government House leader, where he will play a key role in winning the support of opposition parties needed to pass legislation and keep the minority Conservative government in power.
Baird has been seen by many observers as one of the Conservatives’ more partisan cabinet ministers, making his choice for the new role a surprise.
But Harper told reporters he is keen to make Parliament work. and the country needs stability given the uncertain global economic recovery.
“Our economic action plan needs time to run its course. Canada cannot afford to interrupt this green shoot of a recovery with an unnecessary election,” he said.
Harper shuffled his cabinet after former Government House Leader Jay Hill announced he will not seek re-election. Chuck Strahl takes over Baird’s former transport portfolio, with Strahl’s Indian and Northern Affairs post handed to John Duncan.
The main opposition Liberals took a wait-and-see approach to Baird’s appointment, saying that while he can be combative he can also be a calmer negotiator.
“We’ll just have to see how he decides to play it,” Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale told Reuters.
Goodale said Baird told him on Friday he wanted to tone down partisan debate.
Friday marked the second time in two days that Harper has said he does not want an election, and the opposition parties have also said they are not trying to force one now.
With the voters also appearing uninterested in going to the polls soon, it would be “politically unwise to say you want an election even if you do,” said Steve Patten, a University of Alberta political scientist.
A poll out Thursday showed support for the government is sliding, putting it in a statistical dead heat with the main opposition Liberal Party, but neither faring particularly well with voters.
The future of the government’s economic stimulus plan is expected to be on the debate agenda when members of Parliament return to Ottawa in September.
Harper said the government saw no need to expand its fiscal stimulus plan, now in its second year.
“The next focus should be reducing our deficit rather than increased stimulus, but we will of course monitor these things ... the economy remains fragile and we understand the news isn’t always going to be good.”
He reiterated that the government will not attempt to balance its books by cutting transfer payments to provinces.
The prime minister spoke after a report showed Canada’s economy unexpectedly shed 9,300 jobs in July, the first monthly decline this year.
Goodale said it was too early to say if job figures were enough to have the Liberals push for more stimulus measures, but they showed the government cannot just focus on eliminating the deficit.
Editing by Rob Wilson