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Harper unveils his biggest cabinet ever

OTTAWA - Stephen Harper unveiled the first cabinet of his majority government today, sticking mainly with familiar faces and promising to make the economy his No. 1 priority.

OTTAWA - Stephen Harper unveiled the first cabinet of his majority government today, sticking mainly with familiar faces and promising to make the economy his No. 1 priority.



The prime minister increased the size of the country's board of directors by one member to 39, tying it with the cabinets of Brian Mulroney and Paul Martin as the biggest ever.



That brought immediate cries of hypocrisy from critics who slammed Harper for boosting the size of cabinet while moving forward with an austerity program to cut billions of dollars in government spending.



But Harper dismissed the criticism.



"I think it's important to know when you're talking about austerity, that this government has reduced ministerial budgets significantly," he said.



"So the question here is not cost, the question is making sure that we have a ministry that is broad, representative of the country and tries to use people's talents to the maximum."



The prime minister also named three senators — all of them failed candidates, two of whom had quit Senate jobs to run for the Tories.



Returning to the Senate are Larry Smith and Fabian Manning, while former cabinet minister Josee Verner, who lost her seat in the NDP run on Quebec, will join them.



The Senate appointments were not announced until after Harper held his post-swearing-in news conference, where he said his top priority will continue to be the economy.



"The mandate given to us by the voters of Canada on May 2 allowed us to focus on the economy and more generally on stability. If the economy is our top priority, we will be working very hard on all the priorities we campaigned on."



The man guiding the nation's finances, Jim Flaherty, is among the veterans staying in their posts, along with Defence Minister Peter MacKay.



In one of the biggest moves, political pitbull John Baird becomes the country's top diplomat as foreign affairs minister, replacing Lawrence Cannon, who was defeated in the May 2 election. Peter Van Loan takes over from Baird as government House leader.



In another big switch, Tony Clement leaves the industry portfolio to become treasury board president, and Christian Paradis takes over his old job. Clement faces the challenge of cutting billions in spending as the government looks to reduce its huge deficit.



Among the newcomers sworn in at Rideau Hall were Peter Penashue — the lone Conservative from Newfoundland and Labrador — as intergovernmental affairs minister. He is also the first-ever Innu in cabinet.



Rookie Toronto MP Joe Oliver soars into a full cabinet post as natural resources minister, while fellow Torontonian Bal Gosal gets a junior position as minister of state for sport.



Talk of some high-profile rookies getting instant promotions failed to materialize. Neither former diplomat Chris Alexander nor pediatric surgeon Kellie Leitch got the call-up.



Harper said it's important not to rush rookies into cabinet.



"Any hockey coach will tell you that if a team is going to keep winning over time, it must maintain a corps of veterans and then gradually blend in new talent."



Maxime Bernier, one of only five Tories elected in Quebec, returns to cabinet in a junior role as minister of state for small business and tourism after a three-year exile. He was booted from cabinet in 2008 after leaving secret documents at his girlfriend's apartment and forgetting about them.



Ed Fast from B.C. enters cabinet as trade minister, while former Mulroney minister Bernard Valcourt returns with a junior portfolio as minister of state for ACOA and francophonie.



Ten of the 28 women in the 166-member Conservative caucus made it into cabinet, but critics condemned that as far too few.



Former junior ministers Rob Merrifield of Alberta and Rob Moore of New Brunswick were dropped from cabinet.

 
 
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