CANADA

The hot—and the not

All Chrétien’s ministers face challenges to retain the favor of their boss

Anthony Wilson-Smith February 13 1995
CANADA

The hot—and the not

All Chrétien’s ministers face challenges to retain the favor of their boss

Anthony Wilson-Smith February 13 1995

The hot—and the not

CANADA

All Chrétien’s ministers face challenges to retain the favor of their boss

After Finance Minister Paul Martin presented his budget last year, an adviser to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien offered congratulations.

“The budget was a success,” said the adviser, “because it moved off the front pages within two days of its release.” Martin, initially miffed by the remark, later understood the message: to the Prime Minister, silence and competence are equally golden.

His ministers should remember that as the House of Commons resumes this week. In 16 months in office, the government’s general approach has been to speak softly and carry a small stick. That will change, by financial necessity, and each of Chretien’s ministers faces personal or policy challenges in order to retain favor.

After Chrétien, Martin is first among equals. How he deals with the deficit will determine the future of the Liberals, and the country.

The other high-profile figure is Justice Minister Allan Rock, who now has to practise—by producing immediate legislation—what he has been preaching about gun control, gay rights and other major issues. One looming problem: in caucus, there is some disagreement with his policies and some jealousy because of his popularity. Then there are more low-key, but no less efficient, ministers. Think here of Agriculture Minister Ralph Goodale and that consummate pro, House leader and Solicitor General Herb Gray (or “Gray Herb”, as the press gallery calls him). And International Trade Minister Roy MacLaren, who occasionally visits Ottawa between trips to other capitals.

Several key ministers have made their own problems. No one thought Human Resources Minister Lloyd Axworthy had lost the power to implement social policy reforms until he announced last week that, in effect, he had done so. Deputy Prime Minister and Environment Minister Sheila Copps, fluently trilingual, has earthy charm and a social conscience, but has nonetheless been a negligible figure.

Most ministers bring a mix of virtues and vices. Immigration and Citizenship Minister Sergio Marchi, a devoted politician with real passion for his portfo-

BACKSTAGE ^OTTAWA

BY ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH

lio, has credibility problems because of his one-step-forward, two-steps-back approach to issues, and his fondness for over-blown rhetoric. Transport Minister Doug Young’s blunt aggressiveness gets things done, but gets him into trouble. Ditto Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin. Foreign Affairs Minister André Ouellet remains uneven on Quebec issues, but is knowledgeable in his portfolio, remarkably energetic, and well-liked by often-fickle department officials. Public Works Minister David Dingwall (referred to unkindly as “Dingbat” in caucus) is liked in the Maritimes for his pork barrelling, and resented in Ottawa for the same reason. Privy Council president Marcel Massé soon gets a chance to prove if he is as smart as he thinks he is by leading a crucial civil service reorganization. The quietly engaging industry minister, John Manley, must learn to navigate through the jurisdictions he shares with other departments to achieve the aims outlined in his recent position paper.

Some ministers face messes not of their making. Chrétien, rather than Defence Minister David Collenette, was likely behind the too-hasty decision to kill off the Canadian Airborne Regiment. But Collenette must restore morale among the lowest ranks of the military, and allow members to serve their country without having to deliver pizza on the side. Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin had not made a misstep among his battered constituents until his amazingly inappropriate decision to approve $40,000 worth of new office furniture.

Finally, some have varying degrees of success with image makeovers. Energy Minister Anne McLellan, a bright Alberta law professor miscast in a portfolio she initially knew nothing about, has avoided gaffes and won grudging respect in the oilpatch. Revenue Minister David Anderson has created an image as pompous and withdrawn. Health Minister Diane Marleau, also miscast, has noisily concluded that her misfortunes are all the part of the evil, vengeful media.

How long will they all survive? Bet on this Ottawa tradition: any time the media speculate on a shuffle, it won’t happen.