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Kenney, Guergis among new faces in cabinet 

[PoliticsWatch updated 3:45 p.m. January 4, 2007]

OTTAWA  —  Prime Minister Stephen Harper made major changes to his cabinet Thursday, including naming five more MPs to cabinet.      

The biggest part of the shuffle is moving Rona Ambrose out of environment and replacing her with John Baird

Ambrose had come under fire from opposition MPs and environmental groups for her handling of the government's Clean Air Act. And public concerns about climate change has quickly made environment a major portfolio. 

Baird is the bombastic former provincial cabinet minister who has quickly become famous on Parliament Hill for his counterattacks on Liberals during question period. 

Speculation is that Baird has been placed in the role of environment minister to attack any criticism that may come from Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, who was the environment minister in the Martin government while Canada's greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise. 

But the the prime minister denied such suggestions and said Baird got the job because he was successful in getting the government's centrepiece legislation, the Federal Accountability Act, passed. 

"He did that in a way that displayed skilful negotiation with the opposition. He has a lot of experience and a proven track record in moving things through a minority parliament," the PM told reporters at a press conference outside 24 Sussex Drive. 

Ambrose moves to intergovernmental affairs, an area Harper said she is a "specialist in." But Ambrose could come under attack in that file when the government moves ahead with its plan to address the fiscal imbalance with the provinces. 

Harper said Thursday that addressing that issue will be a feature of the upcoming budget. 

Here are the changes.

Shuffled

John Baird  -- Environment Minister
Rona Ambrose -- Intergovernmental Affairs Minister
Peter Van Loan -- Government House Leader
Rob Nicholson -- Justice Minister 
Vic Toews -- Treasury Board President
Monte Solberg -- Human Resources and Social Development Minister
Diane Finley -- Citizenship and Immigration Minister
Marjory Lebreton -- Secretary of State for Seniors

New

Helena Guergis -- Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Affairs
Jason Kenney -- Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity
Gerry Ritz -- Secretary of State Small Business and Tourism
Jay Hill -- Secretary of State and Government Whip
Christian Paradis -- Secretary of State for Agriculture

The prime minister spent much of his press conference trying to put the best face on the shuffle, calling it a "fine tuning" and denying it was a pre-election move. 

Nonetheless, the major shuffle comes less than a year after the last election, a much quicker retooling than his predecessors. Former prime minister Jean Chretien, for example, did not shuffle for almost two years after his election in 1993.  

Shuffling ministers too often creates instability and handicaps the political executive when dealing with the entrenched bureaucracy. 

The other major move of the shuffle was replacing Baird at Treasury Board Vic Toews, the former justice minister. 

Toews was among the eight Tory cabinet ministers with cabinet experience at the provincial level before the Tories came to power last year. He was entrusted with moving the government's tough-on-crime agenda through Parliament and introduced 11 criminal justice bills last year. 

Harper listed Toews reputation as an "economic conservative" and his previous cabinet experience as a reason he was sent to Treasury Board, the powerful department that approves government spending and negotiates with the public service. 

The government is currently coming under fire for a number of groups across the country for the $1 billion in spending cuts Baird announced in September. 

Toews is replaced at justice by Rob Nicholson, the former Government House leader. And Peter Van Loan, who just two months was a backbench MP, receives one of the biggest promotions by replacing Nicholson. 

Harper also increased the size of the cabinet by reintroducing secretaries of state. 

However, regional balance was not an issue, as three of the five new cabinet members are from Western Canada. Atlantic Canada continues to have just three cabinet ministers as it did not get one of the five new cabinet jobs. 

The new cabinet includes three of Harper's most trusted and talented backbench MPs, Jay Hill, Jason Kenney and Helena Guergis

Harper hinted that MPs such as Kenney and Guergis -- who were both picked among the top political performers outside of cabinet by PoliticsWatch recently --  will be in the party's long-term plans if it remains in government, saying the cabinet was expanded to give cabinet experience to the MPs. 

Kenney, Guergis and Quebec MP Christian Paradis were all parliamentary secretaries for the PM, Trade Minister David Emerson and Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn respectively. The PMO did not immediately name replacements for them on Thursday. 

In addition to the shuffle, the PM also announced that the government has created a permanent cabinet committee on the environment and energy security. 

Harper said that a similar group was created with the introduction of the Clean Air Act. The new committee will focus most of its attention on negotiating with the provinces and industry on greenhouse gas targets. 

Dion held a press conference later on Thursday where he didn't so much criticize Harper's changes, but the changes he didn't make. 

"Why Michael Fortier is still the public works minister despite a promise for more accountability," he said of the appointed Senator who is in cabinet. 

He also criticized Harper for keeping Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor and Heritage Minister Bev Oda in cabinet.  The opposition has criticized O'Connor for being a former defence industry lobbyist and Oda for her handling of cuts to the Status of Women. 

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