I wonder if the mainstream media appreciates just how big a “beat” (or a “scoop,” depending on how you view journalism) Dave Rutherford managed to land, from the Prime Minister, last week:
I think what I’m more likely to do, Dave, is probably in mid-term we’ll probably have a new session mid-term when we’ll make… you know, we’ll take a look at how everybody’s performing and make some major changes at that point, but I think between now and then, let’s keep everybody focused on the job we got elected to do, and the tasks I gave them to do last year.
Major cabinet shuffles do happen, of course, but how often are they announced, like this, so far in advance? And this from a prime minister with a reputation for being close-mouthed about how his government operates.
The thing about “cabinet shuffle” stories is that, from a narrative standpoint, they’re reactive in nature: a minister gets in trouble, he or she then gives shifted (or shafted, depending on how big a partisan base the minister has). This prime minister, on the other hand, has decided to become pro-active, in effect publicly scheduling a major shift in direction halfway through his majority mandate. It’s hard to think of a previous Prime Minister who’s done this.
The National Post’s Kelly McParland tries some perspective:
He’s barely a year into his majority. He’s gotten a lot of legislation through. The crime bill is done. The gun registry is closed. The Wheat Board is chastened. The budget is passed, and with it all the considerable regulatory and environmental changes the Tories crammed into its omnibus bill. The civil service is being whittled down. Immigration is undergoing a wholesale revolution. The economy is trundling along in relatively good shape, almost alone amid the ranks of western countries. Inflation is low. Unemployment is 7.2% and falling. Most of the world would give its eye teeth to be where we are.
So what’s the panic? Yes, there are some talented young members of caucus itching for promotion, and there are some cabinet chairs that could certainly be filled with better (and less irritating) occupants. But it’s possible Stephen Harper doesn’t pay as much attention to the sound bites and games-playing that constitutes much of Ottawa’s daily routine as do other members of his caucus.
Actually, I’d say it’s more than possible. We already know, since the PM’s on record as saying so, that he doesn’t read or watch Canadian news media on a regular basis, preferring international inputs like the New York Times or the Telegraph. Bit of a blow to the collective ego of the punditocracy, but then their job is supposed to be to explain government to their readers, not the other way around. So, since he doesn’t pay attention to the inner-Queensway dialogue, why should he want to play the politics game according to their rules?
Still, this announcement of a scheduled shakeup does have the function of putting the punditocracy in its proper place, but there may be one unintended consequence: we now have an artificial deadline of sorts, for Cabinet ministers and their critics to make a case for themselves. A senior minister considering retirement, for example, will have such plans affected by this announcement. Ditto those backbench MPs who want to do something to be considered for Cabinet rank. And critics who want to draw blood by taking down a Minister will certainly redouble their efforts, in the hope that in 2013 a minister shifted out can be presented as a successful political strikeout.
So that’s the way the PM plays the game. Presumably everyone will figure it out — just in time for his second majority.