OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper "fine-tuned" his cabinet Tuesday with a 10-member shuffle that saw one demotion, two newcomers, and no big moves among the heavy-hitters.
Officials originally said the shuffle would involve only "tweaking," but the resignation of Greg Thompson from the Veterans Affairs portfolio on the weekend apparently started a domino effect.
Harper said the government's No. 1 priority is the economy and his changes reflect that.
"On that front, we are completing implementation of our economic action plan, we are planning for deficit reduction once the economy has recovered, and we are building for future jobs and economic growth.
"Today, in preparation for a new throne speech, I am fine-tuning the ministry... This is the cabinet that will lead us through the second and final phase of our economic action plan."
Harper said Stockwell Day, who takes over as president of the Treasury Board, will play a big role in fighting the government's massive $56-billion deficit.
"It will be essential for the government to restrain the growth of spending," he said. "The president of the Treasury Board plays a critical role in overseeing government expenditures."
The shuffle comes at a time when the government needs a distraction from the politically damaging effects of Harper's pre-New Year's decision to prorogue Parliament until March 3.
Former rising star Lisa Raitt took the biggest hit, being demoted to the low-profile Labour post from Natural Resources.
Raitt, who rocketed into cabinet within weeks of her first election win in October 2008, ran into trouble last year when she was caught on tape criticizing fellow ministers and referring to the medical isotope crisis as a "sexy" issue. Raitt was on the hot seat again last fall, accused of questionable expenses when she was president of the Toronto Port Authority in 2008.
Albertan Rona Ambrose, another once high-profile woman who was seen as a disappointment in her first turn at Environment, is getting another chance at a big department, moving from Labour to Public Works.
The two additions to cabinet were both New Brunswick MPs. Keith Ashfield takes over at National Revenue and as minister for the Atlantic Gateway, while Rob Moore becomes junior minister for small business and tourism.
Ashfield takes the Atlantic portfolio from Peter MacKay, who keeps the high-profile Defence post. MacKay faced relentless opposition attack for his handling of the Afghan detainee file before Parliament was prorogued in December.
Other top names, such as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon remained untouched.
Among the other changes:
-Quebec MP Christian Paradis moves from Public Works to Natural Resources, which oversees such hot-button issues as oil sands development, the struggling forestry industry and the future of Atomic Energy of Canada.
-Vic Toews moves from Treasury to Public Safety where he will have to deal with accountability issues at two key agencies: the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency.
-Peter Van Loan moves from Public Safety to International Trade.
-Junior minister Diane Ablonczy, who many consider an under-used talent, got a minor promotion to minister of state for seniors, a role of growing importance given the aging Canadian population.
-Jean-Pierre Blackburn goes from National Revenue to Veterans Affairs.
Former foreign minister Maxime Bernier, who resigned in embarrassment after leaving sensitive documents at his estranged girlfriend's home, is not expected to stage a comeback during this cycle.
The cabinet members took the oath of office at Rideau Hall as Harper and Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean looked on.
The decision to prorogue Parliament gives Harper a chance to fill five vacancies in a Senate and secure Conservative control of the Upper Chamber for the first time. Recent opinion polls have indicated the Conservatives' double-digit lead over the Liberals has shrunk to a few scant points - and in one case, to a virtual dead-heat.
A government official said the cabinet shuffle at this time gives new ministers time to read briefing books and become acquainted with their new portfolios before the resumption of Parliament in March.