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Harper makes staffing move as 
criticism grows 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 5:30 p.m. September 14, 2005]

OTTAWA  — Facing calls for his resignation from four Quebec party members, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper named Lawrence Cannon his deputy chief of staff Wednesday.   

Cannon is a star candidate for the Conservatives in Quebec who was introduced to the media at a press conference with Harper in May. 

He served in cabinet for the provincial Liberals in Quebec. 

Cannon replaces Richard Decarie, another Quebecer and Conservative candidate, who recently quit his job and opted not to run in the election. 

Not only is Cannon the new deputy chief of staff, but he was also given the role of associate executive director of the party. And even though he does not have a seat in the House of Commons, Cannon will share the Intergovernmental Affairs critic portfolio with Conservative MP Rona Ambrose.

The Conservatives have no Quebecers in the House of Commons but handed a critics portfolio to Josee Verner, a Conservative candidate in the last election. 

"Mr. Cannon is a talented and honest man who knows provincial and municipal politics," Harper said in a statement. "His experience as minister of the provincial cabinet in Quebec will be a valuable asset for the Conservative team."

The move to give more prominence to Cannon comes a day after an email drafted by four Quebec conservatives was circulated to some reporters in Ottawa. 

In the email, three Conservative candidates from the last election and an organizer called on Harper to resign. 

"Harper and his gang don't care about Quebec," they wrote. "They will never make a breakthrough in Ontario. That is reality.

"We will never win the next elections. Harper will resign after, that's for sure. But why wait after the elections? Isn't it better for him to get out NOW?"

Party officials told the Canadian Press the four individuals that signed the e-mail appeared to have supported Conservative defector Belinda Stronach during last year's Tory leadership race. 

A Conservative official tells PoliticsWatch that there is uncertainty about the membership status of two of the individual who signed the e-mail as their party membership may have lapsed at the end of last year. 

The party official also downplayed the significance of three of the individuals listed on the e-mail who were not current candidates. 

Two were ex candidates and another was an organizer.

"An ex-candidate means nothing," the official said, while downplaying the e-mail. "It's just a guy, that's all."

"So I got three guys sitting around and typing up e-mails on a computer."

In recent weeks, the Conservatives have been beset by bad publicity over staff firings and candidates deciding not to run. 

The first day of the Conservative caucus meeting in Halifax was overshadowed by media reports about five dismissals from Harper's office. 

And the Globe and Mail reported this week on a number of Conservative candidates in Ontario and Quebec who have resigned, some citing difficulties staying in candidate purgatory months after they thought the election would be held. 

Increasingly news stories have been depicting the party as being in disarray, but one MP said the coverage about dissent in the ranks is being overblown. 

"It has nothing to do with our caucus, it has nothing to do with the current slate of candidates," said Conservative MP Monte Solberg said of the e-mail story. 

"The problems the government has with respect to its own people I would argue are a lot greater than problems we have with people who may or may not be just members of our parties - because that's all they are."

He noted Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew is "completely at odds" with his own government over the division of the Foreign Affairs and International Trade department.

"He's a senior cabinet minister. He's the minister of foreign affairs and he's in a fight with his own Prime Minister's Office about one of their most fundamental policies affecting that department," explained Solberg.

"To me that's a little more important than people who have axes to grind because they supported a different horse in the leadership race."

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