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Dion's shadow cabinet questions

[PoliticsWatch updated 4:45 p.m., January 16, 2007]

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion

OTTAWA  — Liberal Leader Stephane Dion is expected to announce who will get key critics jobs in his shadow cabinet on Thursday.  

And who Dion chooses could reveal more about himself and his leadership style than the people he picks.  

Will Dion be a Paul Martin and build a team that excludes his leadership rivals and is comprised mainly of his strongest supporters? Or will he opt for an approach similar to Stephen Harper and exclude some his strongest supporters for the sake of experience and regional balance?  

And Dion's promises to increase the role and influence of women in politics will also be the lens that much of the media will see his shadow cabinet picks. 

Here's what to what to look for. 

Leadership Rivals

So far Dion has shown he plans to use his key leadership rivals in positions inside and outside the House of Commons.  

Liberal MP Michael Ignatieff, who finished second to Dion at the convention, has already been named deputy leader. Bob RaeGerard Kennedy, Scott Brison and Martha Hall Findlay have all been given key policy and outreach roles for the party in the lead-up to the election. 

But what roles Ken Dryden and Joe Volpe will play is still unknown. The Globe and Mail reported Tuesday that Dryden could be the party's Indian Affairs critic, but if Dion puts Dryden in that senior's critics role that will bump a female MP, Anita Neville

Volpe was noticeably not present when Dion named four of his leadership rivals to key pre-election posts in Toronto in December. While the Toronto MP faced controversy during the leadership race and is a favourite target of ridicule for the Tories, Volpe does have 17 years experience in the House and was a cabinet minister in the Martin government. 

And let's not forget the three leadership candidates that did not make it to Montreal. Maurizio Bevilacqua, Hedy Fry and Carolyn Bennett all have cabinet experience, but supported Bob Rae instead of Dion.  

Dion Supporters

Almost 90 per cent of Liberal MPs in caucus bet on another horse in the leadership race.  

But 10 MPs backed Dion before the convention. Most of these MPs have been in Ottawa since 1993, but not one has ever been in cabinet and none of them are household names. 

Are these MPs expecting a reward from the new Liberal leader? 

Four of these MPs already have senior critics posts. 

The most prominent of them is Montreal Liberal MP Marlene Jennings, who is currently the deputy House leader for the Liberals.  Liberal MPs Bonnie Brown and Sue Barnes also hold senior critics role in social development and justice respectively. Because of Dion's promises to increase the influence of women and because they backed Dion these three women are expected to keep their current posts or get even higher profile jobs. 

Liberal MP Bryon Wilfert is believed to be one of Dion's closest associates and is expected to see his role in caucus become greater. But where does Dion put him? 

Wilfert is the party's foreign affairs critic (Asia Pacific).  Dion could replace current foreign affairs critic Keith Martin, an Ignatieff supporter, with Wilfert. Although he was never in cabinet, Wilfert did serve as a parliamentary secretary to Dion when he was at environment and to Paul Martin when he was finance minister. The Globe reported Tuesday that Ignatieff supporter David McGuinty will be Dion's choice for environment critic and the current grit finance critic is John McCallum, a former bank economist. 

The six other Dion supporters are currently "associate critics" and some could see a promotion. Montreal MP Francis Scarpaleggia, who was elected to Parliament just two years ago, is rumoured to be Dion's choice for his Quebec lieutenant.  

Veteran MP Paul Steckle is currently the associate agriculture critic and has been a long-time member of the agriculture committee. The current agriculture critic is former cabinet minister Wayne Easter, who was an Ignatieff supporter. 

Another veteran MP, Charles Hubbard, is also an associate critic who previously served as a parliamentary secretary for the ministers of transport and Indian affairs. Transport is currently held by McGuinty, who is rumoured to be on the move. Colleen Beaumier, elected in 93, is the associate consumer affairs critic and previously served as a parliamentary secretary for the revenue minister. 

The two other MPs who support Dion are Nunavut MP Nancy Karetak-Lindell, who is not running in the next election and Glen Pearson, who won the recent byelection in London.  
Striking a Balance

Another thing to watch for is if Dion decreases the size of the current Liberal shadow cabinet. It seems everyone is a critic for the opposition Liberals who have 49 critics and House officials as well as 33 associate critics.  

As well, will Dion increase the number of women who hold senior critics portfolios? At the moment, 13 of the current 49 senior critics (26 per cent) are women. Does Dion shoot for 30 per cent female representation or will his target be even higher? 

And if gender balance, trying to reward your supporters, giving a key role to leadership rivals and finding the right fit for portfolios was not enough of a task, Dion also has to decide just how much he wants to renew the party. 

Dion has to strike a balance by making use of Liberal veterans Ralph Goodale, Bill Graham, Denis Coderre and Irwin Cotler and at the same time finding prominent roles for younger MPs such as Belinda Stronach, Dominic Leblanc, Ruby Dhalla and Pablo Rodriguez

Not as hard as cabinet making, but still quite a task. 

:  Related Links

> Dion taps other leadership contenders for key posts

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