In the Afghan detainee controversy, Peter MacKay’s stonewalling and roughhouse takedown of a diplomat was characteristic of this government whenever it is accused of anything. Did the defence minister have any choice but to respond in the way he did?
If, in fact, he had a free hand and chose the stealth route, then yes, MacKay should resign. If his line of defence was dictated from above, then it becomes a tougher call. As he made clear yesterday, he will not step down. But in the rumoured cabinet shuffle, he should be moved out of defence.
MacKay is one of several holders of big portfolios who has stumbled. He is part of a starless cabinet, an unlit galaxy except for the one and only, the prime minister himself.
Environment Minister Jim Prentice has been beaten up for his inactivity on global warming, inactivity that sees this country collecting fossil-of-the-year awards. But has the foot-dragging been his doing? Apparently, it’s the PM who has prevented him from taking swifter action.
Before environment, Prentice held the thankless Indian affairs portfolio, where his main task was to ditch the Kelowna accord. Considered a future leadership contender, he has hardly been able to burnish his credentials.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has had a better year than ones previous. But he has been dragging around a lot of chains — the income trust flip-flop, the disastrous fiscal update of last year and his repeated underestimating of the federal deficit. Again the question needs to be asked — how many of the calls were his own?
The prime minister has some breathing room on the political calendar and could move one, all or none of the above. Strong performers like Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Trade Minister Stockwell Day could be promoted. Long-serving Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, who is to the right of Sarah Palin, could be moved as well as Transport Minister John Baird, the Commons court jester who specializes in drubbing opponents. Taking him on is like arguing with a brass band.
One likely move will see Maxime Bernier, the former foreign minister who resigned after getting caught up in the biker-girl, lost-documents scandal, brought back to cabinet because he is popular in Quebec.
But no one is too excited about any pending changes. Usually, cabinet shuffles are a big deal. Not in Harperland. In his cabinets no one gets to be a heavyweight. They all bob around, waiting for the word from on high.
Lawrence Martin is a journalist and author of 10 books who writes about national affairs from Ottawa.