Canadian PM changes Afghan point man in shuffle

Prime Minister Stephen Harper replaced his embattled point man for Afghanistan in a cabinet shuffle intended to revitalize his minority government after 1-1/2 years in power.

Canadian PM changes Afghan point man in shuffle
Prime Minister Stephen Harper replaced his embattled point man for Afghanistan on Tuesday in a cabinet shuffle intended to revitalize his minority government after 1-1/2 years in power.

He shifted Gordon O'Connor, whose head the opposition had demanded over his handling of Canada's mission to Afghanistan, out of the defense ministry and into national revenue and replaced him with Peter MacKay, the former foreign minister.

Despite the cabinet shuffle, Harper said his broad priorities would remain unchanged, including asserting Canada's sovereignty, cutting taxes, tackling crime, and protecting the environment.

"We did what we said we were going to do and now it's time to keep moving forward," Harper said in a statement. Eight of the 32 cabinet members changed portfolios and one outsider, Diane Ablonczy, replaced a retiring minister.

Harper kept Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, a professed tax cutter who violated a campaign promise by introducing a tax on income trusts last year and clashed with the premiers of the Atlantic provinces over federal transfers.

Flaherty steered two budgets through the minority Parliament, ramping up spending sharply while also lowering the federal sales tax. He is expected to unveil a third budget, laden with new tax cuts, next February or March.

Industry Minister Maxime Bernier replaced MacKay at foreign affairs and was replaced at industry by Jim Prentice, the former Indian affairs minister and a powerful cabinet member who is close to Harper.

"It's the third cabinet of this so-called new government -- only there to try to correct the mistakes of the two former cabinets," Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said.

Harper was elected in January 2006, ending more than 12 years of Liberal rule. In January 2007, he replaced his stumbling environment minister at a time when the portfolio had taken center stage.

Parliament has voted to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan through February 2009, and Harper needed someone at the defense ministry who could communicate the rationale for the mission over the next 1-1/2 years.

Dion demanded on Tuesday that Harper state clearly that Canada will not extend its combat mission in Afghanistan beyond February 2009. Harper has said he will allow Parliament to decide that.

O'Connor had provided inaccurate information about the monitoring of Afghan detainees and about military funeral costs, drawing the ire of the opposition.

MacKay presents a younger, more affable face than O'Connor, a retired general, but Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe said MacKay too had sometimes contradicted himself.

Harper has managed to exceed the average 18-month life span of a Canadian minority government and stay sufficiently ahead of the opposition in the polls that they do not dare bring him down.

A new poll issued on Tuesday by SES Research put the Conservatives at 36 percent, up four points from May, and the Liberals at 33 percent, unchanged from May. It carries a margin of error of 3.3 points 19 times out of 20.

Harper has promised an election in October 2009 but has to be ready to fight one any time that enough opposition members of Parliament team up to defeat him. Liberal leader Dion repeated on Tuesday: "We don't want an election."

Reuters
Last Mod: 15 Ağustos 2007, 19:19
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