OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper kept his veteran finance minister but added fresh faces in two key economic jobs in his new government, saying his priorities remained growth and shrinking the deficit.
Harper unveiled his new cabinet on Wednesday after the Conservatives won a comfortable majority in the May 2 general election with a campaign that stressed economic recovery.
“Canadians can count on this government to pursue measures that create jobs and growth, support seniors, protect our health-care system, fight against crime and reduce and eliminate the deficit,” he said in a statement.
“Our low-tax plan for jobs and growth will strengthen the financial security of hard-working Canadians and help ensure Canada continues to be one of the top-performing advanced economies in the world.”
Canada’s first majority government since 2004 will now be able to take its focus off the risk of being brought down at any moment and focus more on long-term policy.
As expected, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty stayed in the job he has held since 2006, when the Conservatives took power. One of the most influential government members, he put together a multibillion-dollar stimulus package that the Conservatives say helped Canada avoid the worst of the recession.
The program helped push the budget deficit to a record C$55.6 billion ($57.3 billion) in the 2009-10 fiscal year. Latest figures suggest the 2010-11 deficit will be smaller than the C$40.5 billion, or 2.5 pct of gross domestic product, that the government forecast in March.
The government now promises to eliminate the deficit by 2014-15, a year earlier than originally planned, but only if it can curb federal spending.
Flaherty’s first job will be to reintroduce a budget that he presented in March. The government was brought down before Parliament could debate the document, and he said on Wednesday he would present essentially the same plan, with some changes to reflect a few campaign promises and recent economic data.
To eliminate the federal deficit, Flaherty says he will keep taxes low while curbing growth in spending through a “strategic and operating review” of government programs.
The March budget said: “About $80 billion of direct program spending will be reviewed with the objective of achieving at least C$4 billion in ongoing annual savings by 2014-15, or 5 percent of the review base.”
The important post of Treasury Board president, which would have to co-ordinate the billions of dollars in proposed spending cuts, went to Tony Clement, formerly the industry minister.
Harper picked a lawyer from rural Quebec, Christian Paradis, as the new industry minister. He will have the task of completing a review of a proposal by the London Stock Exchange to buy TMX Group, the operator of the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Paradis, a low-profile natural resources minister before the election, will also have to propose new copyright legislation and decide on a possible increase in foreign ownership in the telecoms sector.
Harper gave the position of foreign minister to John Baird, a combative politician known more for baiting his political opponents than for his diplomatic skills.
The job of international trade minister went to backbench legislator Ed Fast, who first won a seat in 2006. Canada is currently at a crucial stage of negotiating a free trade agreement with the European Union.
Fast said the government was “very focused on expanding trade relationships around the world.”
Additional reporting by Louise Egan; editing by Peter Galloway and Rob Wilson