OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper named former television journalist Peter Kent as environment minister on Tuesday but opted to keep other cabinet changes minimal because of the wobbly economic recovery.
Harper was forced to fill a vacancy left by the resignation last November of former environment minister Jim Prentice. He also needs to make his government election-ready in case opposition parties join forces to defeat his budget early this year.
Harper made it clear his minority Conservative government will not alter its existing policies on climate change or on the economy. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty kept his job.
Harper said the global economic recovery was still too fragile to engage in what he called “economic adventurism”, a veiled reference to the main opposition Liberals’ threat to vote against the budget unless the Conservatives cancel corporate tax cuts and the purchase of new fighter jets.
“We know there is a threat of an election from the opposition. We don’t like it, but we take it seriously,” he told reporters.
“This is a time for stability, not uncertainty.”
The environment job is one of the toughest in the minority Conservative government. Critics regularly attack the government for not doing enough about global warming and for caring more about the interests of the oil industry in the western province of Alberta, the main base of the Conservatives’ political support, than it does about the environment.
Harper repeated on Tuesday his view that domestic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would have to be tied to reductions in the United States, Canada’s largest trading partner.
“Such a large portion of our economy is integrated continentally that to really be effective in this we need to work with the American administration,” he said.
Kent was first elected to Parliament in 2008 and served as minister of state for foreign affairs. But he is perhaps best known for his 40-year career as a foreign correspondent and as a news anchor for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Environmentalists and political opponents pointed to his relative inexperience as evidence of Harper’s alleged indifference to reducing the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
Greenpeace said it is worried that Ottawa just wants to use Kent’s television experience to sell the existing policy.
“What we need is a new policy, not a new salesman for the old policy,” said Keith Stewart, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace.
Former Environment Minister Jim Prentice was generally viewed as more sympathetic than Harper to calls for Canada to take more aggressive steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Ed Whittingham, of the Pembina Institute green group, said he hopes the prime minister gives Kent the leeway to pursue tougher environmental policies.
“We hope he can bring to the position the tenacity and passion that he showed as a journalist,” Whittingham said.
Kent will replaced at foreign affairs by Diane Ablonczy, previously the minister of state for seniors.
Former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino, who in November won a by-election in a longtime Liberal stronghold in Toronto’s suburbs, will fill the vacancy left by Ablonczy.
Ted Menzies, an Alberta legislator and formerly the parliamentary secretary to the finance minister, was promoted to minister of state for finance.
The Conservatives hold a minority of seats in the House of Commons and need the support of at least one of the three opposition parties to pass legislation and remain in power.
The Liberals look set to oppose the budget so the Conservatives’ hopes of survival rest on getting support from two smaller parties -- the left-leaning New Democratic Party and the separatist Bloc Quebecois.
Polls show the Conservatives would likely retain power in an election, albeit with another minority government.
Additional reporting by Allan Dowd in Vancouver; editing by Peter Galloway and Rob Wilson