Fri, Nov 28, 2003 - Page 9 News List

For Canada's new Cabinet, job aspirants outnumber positions

REUTERS , OTTAWA

The government minister was in a confident mood that night and let others around the dinner table into a secret.

"I'm expecting a big promotion -- I've been there for Paul from the start and the time has come to get my reward," was the confident prediction.

Paul is Paul Martin, leader of Canada's ruling Liberal Party, who takes over as prime minister on Dec. 12 from Jean Chretien after a 15-year struggle for the top job.

Now Martin must assemble a Cabinet where the number of spots available -- 38 at last count -- is vastly overshadowed by those who assume their support for him deserves ministerial office. As a result, Ottawa is a frenzy of speculation about winners and losers.

"Paul's going to have a lot of enemies on Dec. 13," said one aspiring legislator.

Martin's dilemma is all too familiar to Chretien, who announced last week he would retire and make way for Martin, who was recently chosen party leader. "When you make the list of a Cabinet, for any leader, it is the toughest job because you know you will disappoint a lot of people," the prime minister said.

Martin aides say there will be a major clearout, which probably means farewell to Transport Minister David Collenette, Industry Minister Allan Rock, Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief and Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal.

The only sure winners are Public Works Minister Ralph Goodale and Health Minister Anne McLellan, who have both been linked to the jobs of finance minister and deputy prime minister.

The futures of Foreign Minister Bill Graham, who has known Martin for 35 years, and Defense Minister John McCallum are uncertain.

"It's depressing to go into the kitchen and realize the fruit flies there have a longer life expectancy than I do," said an aide to one minister tipped to lose out.

The real question mark is over Finance Minister John Manley, who ran for the leadership and infuriated Martin by suggesting he had used underhand methods. Manley says he has no idea what will happen to him.

"It is time for me to reflect on things ... I have choices and we will see what Mr Martin may want me to do or not," he said.

The Martin team's anger with Manley, who is also deputy prime minister, is tempered by the fact he is widely seen as one of the most competent Cabinet members.

And it is competence that will be at a premium, since Martin's task would be easier if he were simply able to choose the best team available. Unfortunately, the peculiarities of the Canadian political system make this impossible.

Tradition dictates that ministers must come from as many of the 10 provinces as possible. Put bluntly, this means that even if the only legislator elected from a certain province is an incompetent, he or she is likely to be in Cabinet.

"People complain about the American system but at least it gives the president the chance to nominate professionals. In Canada, the man who was in control of law enforcement used to be a potato farmer. That's ridiculous," said one diplomat.

Former Solicitor-General Lawrence MacAulay was indeed a potato farmer. Wayne Easter, his successor, is also a farmer and has a diploma from the Nova Scotia Agricultural College.

Martin must ensure there is proper representation from the ranks of visible minorities, those who speak French (one of Canada's two official languages) and from immigrant communities.

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