Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Cabinet shuffle too light and too late to buoy Conservatives

Despite the bravado of the Conservatives and their attendant punditocracy, today’s cabinet shuffle is hardly the stuff of earth-moving political change.

Consider this: The last time the national poll numbers moved in a lasting way was 20 months ago with then finance minister Ralph Goodale’s refusal to investigate income trust trading that to the rest of the world looked like a leak from inside his department. The Liberals lost both the credibility they had in reserve as well as the election. Since then the polls have sat tight.

Today’s shuffle has all the significance of the day McDonald's hands out new uniforms. It’s still the same lame product being served by the same uninspired people with the same boss – they just happen to look a bit different. It’s unlikely to change the minds of urbanites, francophones and women who Harper can’t win over.

In fact, the shuffle goes some way to solidify the impression that Harper is stubborn and untrustworthy. It would have been smart politics to move disastrous ministers like O’Connor and Oda when their failings became evident – as he did with Ambrose this winter. Moving them now only serves as a reminder that he let incompetence go unchecked for months. Not smart for a party that needs to look different from the scandal-plagued Liberals.

So, what is the next event of “income trust scandal” magnitude that will move the polls in a lasting way? More and more people are looking to the Outremont by-election where a strong showing from former Liberal environment minister Thomas Mulcair for the NDP could signal the beginning of real change in federal politics in Quebec and the rest of Canada.

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