OTTAWA (Reuters) - The new Treasury Board president, Tony Clement, is a fanatical Twitter user who has handled some of the Conservative government’s toughest files without suffering much political damage.
Clement will be in overall charge of managing government spending. Previously industry minister, he was named to his new post in a cabinet shuffle on Wednesday.
Last November, he controversially blocked a $39 billion takeover bid by Anglo-Australian miner BHP Billiton for Canadian fertilizer producer Potash Corp.
Clement said the deal would not be of net benefit to Canada, prompting complaints from some quarters that he had tarnished the government’s pro-business slant. The diminutive 50-year-old, known for delivering a pithy quote, dismissed the criticism.
“I think that’s ridiculous. You can’t say we’ve become Venezuela because of one decision,” he told Reuters shortly after announcing the veto.
He is sometimes named as a possible contender to run for the leadership of the Conservatives once Prime Minister Stephen Harper leaves his post. Unlike some of his rivals, he is fluent in French, Canada’s second official language.
Clement became federal industry minister in October 2008 and quickly found himself at the heart of Ottawa’s move to provide billions of dollars in loans to help struggling auto makers General Motors and Chrysler.
Although the Conservatives have traditionally decried state support for corporations, Clement said the country’s economy would have suffered enormous damage without government help going to the large auto sector.
Never one to shy away from trouble, he sparked outrage among academics and experts in 2010 by canceling the mandatory long-form census on the grounds that it was too intrusive.
Clement is an avid user of the social networking tool Twitter and sends out a stream of jocular and offbeat messages, many of them gently self-mocking. His willingness to answer questions from journalists and followers on Twitter has helped create a favorable image in the media.
“His current attempts to master rock guitar are a work in progress, meaning there are no imminent plans to change careers,” reads one entry on his official website.
When the Conservatives took power in 2006, Clement was named health minister. He had previously served as the Progressive Conservative health minister in the province of Ontario during a fatal outbreak of the respiratory disease SARS in 2003.
He was one of the leaders in drafting then Ontario Premier Mike Harris’s “Common Sense Revolution” right-leaning agenda -- espousing low taxes and small government -- which saw major cuts to the province’s social services.
After the Harris government fell in 2003 Clement joined the federal Conservatives and ran for the leadership in 2004, but finished a distant third. A lawyer by training, Clement is married with three children.
He was born Tony Panayi to a Greek-Cypriot father and a Canadian mother in Britain on January 27, 1961. He immigrated to Canada as a child and later adopted the surname of his stepfather, Ontario politician John Clement.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway