May 20, 2011 / 12:49 PM / 7 years ago

Low-profile industry minister has big tasks

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s new industry minister, Christian Paradis, is a cautious low-profile politician with little experience handling the tricky files he will now face.

<p>Canada's Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 16, 2010. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>

Paradis was named to his new post in a cabinet shuffle on Wednesday. He had spent the previous 16 months as the minister of natural resources, where he rarely made headlines.

The 37-year-old lawyer is one of only five legislators the governing Conservatives have from the politically important, predominantly French-speaking, province of Quebec and as such was almost guaranteed a good job.

“Perhaps his profile in Quebec is higher, and that would be something the government needs,” said James Farney, a political studies professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Paradis, who sometimes struggles with his English, now has a heavy workload. First, he must decide whether to approve a proposal by the London Stock Exchange to buy TMX Group, the operator of the Toronto Stock Exchange.

If he turns it down, critics will accuse him of betraying the government’s pro-market principles. If he approves it, he is likely to be castigated for letting a Canadian entity pass into the hands of foreigners.

The industry minister is also responsible for reforming the telecommunications sector. The government says it wants most of its new policy on whether to lift foreign ownership limits in the industry to be ready by the end of the year.

Tony Clement, who preceded Paradis in the job, said the investment policy would have to be twinned with a decision on how to proceed with a planned auction of wireless spectrum, provisionally set for late next year.

Asked about foreign ownership in the telecommunications industry, Paradis told reporters on Wednesday: “We have to keep the direction that was taken. We have to favorize (sic) the investment here always in the best interests of Canadians.”

UBS analyst Phillip Huang said the appointment of Paradis might delay the both the review and the spectrum auction.

“Mr. Paradis may need time to acquire up-to-date knowledge of the sector, and may also prioritize and approach his new files differently,” he wrote in a note to clients.

Clement was a heavy hitter and he enjoyed the respect of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is known for keeping a tight grip on his ministers. It is unclear whether Paradis will have the same high profile.

“Realistically, the big stories on this file will be run out of the prime minister’s office,” Farney said.

Paradis ran into trouble politically last year after it emerged that a senior aide had interfered in the release of access to information requests to reporters. The aide resigned and Paradis shrugged off calls to do the same.

Opposition legislators were also unhappy that when Paradis was federal public works minister in 2009, he discussed government business with a construction executive at a Conservative Party fund-raising event.

Christian Paradis was born on January 1, 1974. He is married with three children.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway

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