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Minor cabinet shuffle expected     

[PoliticsWatch Updated 3:30 p.m. September 7, 2005]

OTTAWA  — There is anticipation in Ottawa Wednesday that a small cabinet shuffle is imminent some time this week.    
   
Prime Minister Paul Martin and his cabinet are set to be in town and meet on Thursday morning.

A cabinet shuffle is needed to replace Northern Ontario MP Joe Comuzzi, who left cabinet earlier this year to vote against the government's gay marriage legislation. 

The Toronto Star reported Wednesday that Northern Ontario MPs Anthony Rota and Diane Marleau are among the candidates who could replace Comuzzi as minister responsible for Northern Ontario development. 

Marleau has been in Parliament since 1988, but out of cabinet since 1999. She has held a number of cabinet posts, including Health and Public Works. Rota is 44 and was elected in 2004 federal election. 

The expected cabinet shuffle is much smaller than what some Liberals were discussing after the Liberal caucus met in Regina last month. 

That gathering created speculation about a larger cabinet shuffle based on the possibility that Natural Resources Minister John Efford could leave cabinet because of illness.

Efford is battling diabetes and was in poor health earlier in the year.

But last week he issued a statement saying he was staying on as his diabetes is now back at a "manageable level."

"While optimistic about my health, I will be approaching this fall with appropriate caution and a reasonable schedule that will allow me to execute my duties … while balancing my diabetes treatment," Efford said.

Efford's natural resources portfolio is currently an especially important one as Canada begins to engage in a trade war with the United States because of the softwood lumber dispute. 

A number of names were being touted to replace Efford at natural resources, and each would have created a domino effect within the cabinet. 

Industry Minister David Emerson, a former softwood lumber executive with Canfor, was one of the names being touted. The Globe and Mail reported that Emerson would keep his industry portfolio but assume part of the natural resources file. 

Fisheries Minister Geoff Regan, who is said to be wanting a change of scenery, may have been the best fit. At natural resources, Regan would have also been in charge of offshore resources, a key sector for his home province of Nova Scotia. 

And Regan moving wouldn't have created too many dominos. Fisheries could have been filled by Atlantic Canada Opportunities Minister Joe McGuire. 

Had Efford left politics, Liberals who spoke to PoliticsWatch believed that rookie Newfoundland MP Todd Russell, who won a key byelection in May, would have replaced him as Newfoundland's representative in cabinet. 

Under this scenario, the cabinet shuffle would have been limited to Atlantic Canada. 

Another development last week raised questions about just who is the political minister for Nova Scotia. 

There are currently two ministers representing the province - Regan and Public Works Minister Scott Brison. Regan, a long time Martin supporter, is officially the political minister for the province. 

Friends and supporters of political ministers are usually the ones who receive the patronage goodies, but last week Dianna Dalton, a provincial Tory, former federal Progressive Conservative and supporter of Brison, was appointed the chair of the federal-provincial offshore regulator. 

Dalton supported Brison's 2003 PC leadership bid and served as a key strategist in his 2004 election campaign. 

"On the federal scene she has been described as a Red Tory who could not tolerate the merger of the Canadian Alliance and PC party," the Halifax Chronicle-Herald reported last week. 

The most interesting cabinet speculation involved Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan returning to the natural resources portfolio, a position she held during her first four years in cabinet under former prime minister Jean Chretien. 

Liberals said McLellan going to natural resources could be part of a two-pronged strategy to show the Americans the dispute with the U.S. over NAFTA panel rulings on softwood is so important that the deputy PM has been sent in. And it would also be part of a strategy to win votes in Western Canada. 

McLellan currently has her foot in the natural resources sector being the minister handling the government's role in the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline project. 

However, the downside would have been the perception that moving McLellan from public security to natural resources was a demotion for the veteran minister. Also she could have become a target of opposition attacks of being ineffective if no progress is made with the U.S. between now and the federal election, which is probable. 

Another backbench Liberal MP who may have missed out on landing a cabinet role is Liberal whip Karen Redman. 

One Liberal source said last week Redman likely would be at the front of the line to land any cabinet post from Ontario as she is owed a debt of gratitude from the government for helping keep MPs in order and near the House during numerous confidence votes during the spring.

The Liberal source said one problem, however, was exactly where to put Redman in cabinet. Comuzzi was minister responsible for Northern Ontario development, but Redman is from Southern Ontario and could not assume Comuzzi's post, thus creating more dominoes for the PMO to deal with.

If a larger shuffle doesn't materialize, Liberal sources wouldn't be surprised. 

One source believed something else may have been at work with all the talk about a substantial cabinet shuffle.

"This might be a tactic being used by the (Prime Minister's Office) to keep people in line," one source said. 

The source noted that MPs and cabinet ministers become better team players when MPs believe there is a possibility of a cabinet promotion in the offing and cabinet ministers see the possibility of a better portfolio in the near-term. 

"If you want a better spot you'll keep your mouth shut and say nice things," the source explained, noting that with an election approaching keeping caucus in line is more critical than usual. 

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> PM has plenty to choose from for cabinet shuffle

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