The prime minister must be chuckling today having put one over on reporters and pundits.
Yesterday he conducted what can best be described as a micro shuffle as it really wasn't big enough to be called a mini shuffle. With no warning to the media who cover such items, everyone was taken by surprise.
Julian Fantino moving to CIDA to replace the departing Bev Oda was certainly a surprise. One also has to wonder how that will improve the way the government handles CIDA or defends actions CIDA takes. Oda was notoriously weak in question period and when appearing before committees. Fantino fits into the same category and many of the existing parliamentary secretaries perform better than Fantino every day of the week in the House. To his credit though, he is supposed to be a very good administrator, and perhaps that is the reason he was sent there.
Bernie Valcourt moving to become the associate minister at the Department of Defence was also a surprise, but he has done a good job at ACOA while working hard at the political level in Atlantic Canada. Valcourt has a fair amount of cabinet experience from the Mulroney era, including with line departments. He will have his hands full with procurement issues in the months ahead.
There is always a ripple effect to a micro shuffle such as this.
There were lots of very unhappy backbenchers last night, many of whom could have easily stepped into Bev Oda's position at CIDA. Just looking at the Ontario roster of MPs and one can see several very competent individuals who could have stepped up to fill her position swapping one Ontario MP for another without changing the overall composition of cabinet.
We also have to keep in mind that shuffles are part of caucus management. Disappoint too often and your backbenchers get restless and become more outspoken and difficult to manage.
Instead of seeing some promotions from within, today's backbenchers will have to stifle their disappointment and continue to look at ministers who have performed poorly, hurt the government image or, in some cases, who have simply been in the same position too long. Sometimes it is a good idea to move ministers, even your better ones, because they become stale if they stay in their position for a long period. A move reinvigorates your best ministers and breathes life into a cabinet.
Brian Mulroney was a master at caucus management. If you were a minister you never knew when he would move you, hence you worked hard and focused on the task at hand. If you were a junior minister or parliamentary secretary you worked equally hard as many of his ministerial appointments came from those ranks and if you were a backbencher you also knew you had a shot at the big time if you worked hard. There will be plenty of MPs wondering today what they have to do to get recognized for their hard work and contributions.
Today the speculation is around why this micro shuffle, and why was it carried out without notice when typically a government uses such an occasion to talk about the government's priorities and promote the profile of the new ministers. Only the PM can answer that one.
Maybe what took place was what the PM planned all along and the last laugh is his over the media and pundits. Certainly departments other than those two (CIDA and Defence) were preparing transition books for new ministers so they would also have been taken by surprise. Perhaps there was a last minute glitch and someone wouldn't move, or maybe the PM thinks this move is sufficient. If so, I expect he will be one of the few in the Conservative caucus who does.