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MacKay replaces O'Connor at defence; Ablonczy promoted 

[PoliticsWatch updated 6:00 p.m. August 14, 2007]

Peter MacKay is in at Defence, while Gordon O'Connor is out. Diane Ablonczy is the only new addition to the Harper cabinet. 

OTTAWA  —  Prime Minister Stephen Harper unveiled the second major retooling of his cabinet in less than eight months on Tuesday.      

In total, eight cabinet ministers were moved, one was dropped and one added. 

The primary objective of the shuffle appeared to be to move Gordon O'Connor out of National Defence and replace him with the high-profile Peter MacKay

This led to a domino effect on several other cabinet ministers.

Here are the changes.

Shuffled

Peter MacKay -- Defence Minister
Maxime Bernier -- Foreign Affairs
Jim Prentice -- Industry Minister
Chuck Strahl  -- Indian Affairs Minister
Gerry Ritz -- Agriculture Minister
Gordon O'Connor -- Revenue Minister
Bev Oda
-- International Cooperation 
Josée Verner -- Heritage Minister

New

Diane Ablonczy -- Secretary of State Small Business and Tourism
 
Another smaller shuffle appears to be a swap between two ministers. Embattled minister Bev Oda becomes International Cooperation minister and is replaced at Heritage by Josée Verner
 
Diane Ablonczy, a 14-year veteran of the Reform, Alliance and Conservative caucuses, was named a junior minister for small business and tourism. Carol Skelton, who is not seeking re-election, was dropped from cabinet. 

"(This) broadens the experience of some capable ministers," said Sandra Buckler, director of communications for the prime minister. "It's about continuity and building the team for the longer term." 

The swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall ends weeks of wild speculation from the national media. 

The inclusion of Ablonczy in cabinet was one of the few surprises. 

Many earlier news reports said backbenchers would not be promoted. Ablonczy's absence from Harper's first cabinet came as a shock to most political observers given she was one of the strongest and most high-profile performers during her years in opposition. 

O'Connor's demotion came as no surprise as all three opposition parties had been calling for his resignation for his handling of Canada's mission in Afghanistan for months. 

Even Conservative insiders expressed frustration with O'Connor's tendency to misspeak or wander off message.

Speaking to reporters at 24 Sussex Drive, Harper thanked O'Connor for his service as Defence minister and credited him with having the foresight to see Arctic sovereignty as an emerging military issue. 

Harper said the retired brigadier general was moved because he had spent most of his time in public service in a military role. 

"I think it's time for him to have some other experiences," Harper said.  

The government had spent most of the spring sitting of Parliament being hammered on the handling of Afghan detainees and the changes to the Atlantic Accord. 

MacKay is considered one of most talented communicators in the Conservative government. Conservatives are hoping his move to defence will help the government sell the Afghan mission and improve his party's standing in Atlantic Canada, which has plunged in recent months. 

It may also backfire for MacKay. The job of defence minister is one that few of its occupants exit better off politically. This is especially true when Canadian Forces are involved in combat missions. 

The government still only has three MPs from a region with four provinces. The other two Conservative cabinet ministers from Atlantic Canada -- Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson and Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn -- were not affected by the shuffle. 

The opposition parties all said the changes in cabinet were nothing more than window dressing and the government needs to change its policies on Afghanistan and the environment. 

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe said Harper merely performed  "cosmetic changes" to his government. 

"I think we're facing the same situation we are facing when they changed (Rona) Ambrose for (John) Baird at environment," he said, noting that this did not change the government's overall policy thrust on the environment. 

Here's the updated list of members of the Harper cabinet

The Right Honourable Stephen Joseph Harper
Prime Minister of Canada 

The Honourable Robert Douglas Nicholson
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada 

The Honourable David Emerson
Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics 

The Honourable Jean-Pierre Blackburn
Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec 

The Honourable Gregory Francis Thompson
Minister of Veterans Affairs 

The Honourable Marjory LeBreton
Leader of the Government in the Senate and Secretary of State (Seniors) 

The Honourable Monte Solberg
Minister of Human Resources and Social Development 

The Honourable Chuck Strahl
Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians 

The Honourable Gary Lunn
Minister of Natural Resources 

The Honourable Peter Gordon MacKay
Minister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency 

The Honourable Loyola Hearn
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans 

The Honourable Stockwell Day
Minister of Public Safety 

The Honourable Vic Toews
President of the Treasury Board 

The Honourable Rona Ambrose
President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister of Western Economic Diversification 

The Honourable Diane Finley
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration 

The Honourable Gordon O'Connor
Minister of National Revenue 

The Honourable Beverley J. Oda
Minister of International Cooperation 

The Honourable Jim Prentice
Minister of Industry 

The Honourable John Baird
Minister of the Environment 

The Honourable Maxime Bernier
Minister of Foreign Affairs 

The Honourable Lawrence Cannon
Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities 

The Honourable Tony Clement
Minister of Health and the Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario 

The Honourable James Michael Flaherty
Minister of Finance 

The Honourable Josée Verner
Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages 

The Honourable Michael Fortier
Minister of Public Works and Government Services 

The Honourable Peter Van Loan
Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform 

The Honourable Gerry Ritz
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board 

The Honourable Jay D. Hill
Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip 

The Honourable Jason Kenney
Secretary of State (Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity) 

The Honourable Helena Guergis
Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs and International Trade) (Sport) 

The Honourable Christian Paradis
Secretary of State (Agriculture) 

The Honourable Diane Ablonczy
Secretary of State (Small Business and Tourism) 

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