OTTAWA - The thing about cabinet shuffles in the summer is they don't lend themselves to relaxing on the deck with a beer and a hot dog. Those taking on new portfolios soon find themselves with little down time.
Here's a short list of new ministers with major homework.
1. Transport Minister Lisa Raitt: The rail disaster in Lac-Megantic, Que., will continue to be a major developing story as the town mourns its loss and investigators sort out what happened. Raitt will be the point person on questions around federal rail safety rules and any regulatory changes that will need to be made, especially in light of unheeded recommendations by the Transportation Safety Board.
2. Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney: Kenney comes on board just as the premiers prepare to meet at their annual Council of the Federation, and the Conservative government's proposed Canada Job Grant will be on their agenda. The program would give employers up to $15,000 for skills training per worker, with the feds, provinces and businesses each pitching in cash. Some provinces have rejected the plan, saying it robs existing programs and infringes on provincial jurisdiction.
3. Chief Government Whip John Duncan: Tensions that erupted this spring inside the Conservative caucus over the autonomy of MPs in the Commons are not likely to get any better with the dozens and dozens of backbenchers passed over for cabinet posts. Duncan will need to use all of his collegial charm to ensure colleagues vote the way they're supposed to and show up when summoned.
4. Defence Minister Rob Nicholson: Nicholson inherits a colossal budget, policy and procurement mess at National Defence. The military, which lived high on the hog during the war, is struggling to absorb an annual reduction that is expected top $2.5 billion by 2014 — or about 13 per cent of its annual appropriation. The department is adrift in terms of policy; Nicholson will face questions about long-delayed equipment, including Sea King replacements, fixed-wing search planes and rusting navy supply ships.
5. Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre: The Ottawa-area MP has been handed one of the stinkiest files going — Senate reform and the attached spending scandal. With an ongoing RCMP investigation and an audit set to come out on Sen. Pamela Wallin's travel expenses, the upper chamber will continue to be a major political liability. Trying to achieve success with Senate reform that has eluded Prime Minister Stephen Harper for seven years will be a challenge, particularly with some Conservative senators exercising their own independence lately.
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