03/18/2014 06:10 EDT | Updated 03/18/2014 06:59 EDT

Flaherty's Replacement Will Instantly Become Harper's Heir Apparent


Finance Minister Jim Flaherty resigned from cabinet Tuesday, sparking renewed speculation about who will replace him.

The next Finance Minister will instantly become the Prime Minister Stephen Harper's heir apparent. The stakes have never been higher regarding a cabinet appointment since Harper became PM in 2006.

The Front-Runner

Jason Kenney is widely regarded as the front-runner. The former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and current Minister of Employment and Social Development has been given credit by many for the Conservative majority government.

As Minister of Immigration, Kenney relentlessly courted new Canadians in the fast-growing suburbs of major cities. The Tory breakthrough in suburban Toronto in 2011 was crucial in securing a majority.

Many in Ottawa speculated that Kenney was disappointed when Flaherty, who has had health problems of late, didn't leave Finance during the summer cabinet shuffle. Soon after, Flaherty reportedly told Kenney to "shut the fuck up" in the House of Commons after the latter publicly criticized Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Flaherty is an old friend of the Ford family and was close with Rob's father, Doug Ford Sr.

It is rumored that Kenney wants to be leader some day. Whether that plays in his favour or not is hard to say. What won't play in his favour is the fact that he never graduated from university and is a career politician. He's also an Alberta MP, just like the PM, which could lead to criticism that the Conservatives don't care about the rest of the country.

The Wunderkind

Also high on any list of potential replacements is Industry Minister James Moore, who is also thought to want Harper's job one day.

At just 37 years old, Moore is viewed as the wunderkind of the party. He got a big promotion from Heritage to Industry in the last cabinet shuffle and is widely hailed as whip-smart. However, Moore's history as a broadcaster and his arts degree in political science may lead to criticism that he's not qualified for the job.

Both Moore and Kenney have been making slight deviations from the party line in public statements of late, hinting that both harbour leadership ambitions.

The Qualified Choice

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt is also thought to be a top contender for Finance. She previously served as Minister of Natural Resources and then Minister of Labour, so her economic credentials are strong. She received good reviews in the party for her management of strikes at Air Canada and Canada Post during her time at Labour. The fact that she hails from the suburbs of Toronto, where the next election is likely to be won or lost, could also play in her favour.

With a masters in chemistry, a law degree and nearly 10 years of experience with the Toronto Port Authority, it will be hard to say she's not qualified. If Harper does appoint Raitt she will become the first woman Finance Minister in Canadian history.

The Outside Contenders

Aside from the top three, Treasury Board President Tony Clement, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird also have a shot. All three are from Ontario, a crucial consideration due to the perception that the Conservatives are focused on the Western provinces.

However, few in Ottawa seem to think that Baird wants the job. Clement, despite the right background, carries the stigma of the scandal over spending on the G20 and Nicholson simply doesn't have much name recognition outside Ottawa.

Of course, anything could happen. International Trade Minister Ed Fast, Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver and Peter MacKay, a man who seems to be bandied about for every open job, are all being mentioned in speculation online.

Whoever gets the job will have big shoes to fill. Flaherty served as Finance Minister since the very beginning of Stephen Harper's time as Prime Minister. His replacement will have to live up to that legacy while also dealing with the intense pressure of being viewed as Harper's heir.

If the Conservatives are unable to secure another majority in 2015, Harper will likely step down and trigger a leadership race. Whoever is serving as Finance Minister will almost certainly have a leg up.

In short, this will likely be the most important cabinet appointment of Harper's career.

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