Opinion: What the cabinet shuffle means for Ottawa

With Prime Minister Stephen Harper undertaking the most significant shuffle since his first election in 2006, several key appointments are relevant for the National Capital Region and its business community.

By Serge Buy.

First, the representation at the cabinet table for our area has strengthened. Since the 2011 election and former cabinet minister Lawrence Cannon's loss, the region only had John Baird and Gordon O'Connor as its representatives  at the cabinet table.  Now Mr. Baird is joined by the young and energetic MP from Nepean-Carleton, Pierre Poilievre, who takes over as Minister of State responsible for Democratic Reform.

The presence of the two ministers is a sign of the prime minister's confidence in the two MPs, but it is also a sign that the Ottawa region remains important for the Conservative government.

Files related to Ottawa, such as expanding public transit, redefining the role of the National Capital Commission and physically relocating government departments, should gain some prioritywith the two Ottawa cabinet ministers working together on these issues.

Interestingly, Mr. Baird and Mr. Poilievre represent adjacent ridings southwest of downtown Ottawa. This may be an issue for the eastern part of the National Capital Region, which may not find a very sympathetic ear from either of these two ministers.

The only Tory representative from the eastern part of the National Capital Region, Royal Galipeau, will have to work extremely hard to make sure that the interests of his constituents are well represented in the Conservative caucus, headed by Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry MP Guy Lauzon.

Elsewhere, Diane Finley successfully spearheaded reforms to the employment insurance program and handled the difficult temporary foreign workers’ file as minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. She’s now been given what amounts to one of the most thankless ministries: Public Works and Government Services Canada.

This department gains very little positive media. The usual stories are related to waste (F-35 fighter jets), scandals and simply mind-numbing decisions (remember the purchase of two potted plants for $2,000?)

However, Ms. Finley has a common-sense approach, a background in small business and is unafraid to tackle important issues. Here are some of the files she’ll inherit:

- Continue to reorganize the IT purchasing sector with Shared Services Canada;

- Small and medium-sized businesses and their concerns about accessing contracts and the government's continued bundling of contracts;

- The expiry of several large IT and real estate contracts;

- Restructuring defence purchasing to avoid another F-35 public relations disaster.

 

At Treasury Board, Tony Clement is still at the helm. He’s likely to continue his approach to the public service renewal but will be unlikely to push dramatic decentralization of government departments. Public servants should not expect to have to move to other regions.

Overall, the shuffle means that the pace of reforms set by the Conservatives will not only continue, but increase in intensity and impact. The prime minister has appointed competent ministers who, regardless of whether you agree with their agenda, have demonstrated their skills and ability to get things done.

Serge Buy is the senior partner of Ottawa-based government relations and communications firm Flagship Solutions.