Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Cannon's Fizzle Leaves Room for New Minister

Stephen Harper has tough choice to make

In the 2011 federal election, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon turned out to be a dud.

Which is unfortunate. While by no means perfect, Cannon was pretty good as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Among the highlights of his tenure was scaring Libyan President Muammar al-Ghadafi away from setting foot in Canada, then committing six CF-18 Hornets to enforcing the no-fly zone that is preventing Ghadfi from continuing to massacre unarmed protesters with fighter jets, as well as making it possible for amred rebels to run him out of Libya for good.

But the citizens of Pontiac were left with the task of deciding who their Member of Parliament would be. The decision they reached was not Lawrence Cannon, but rather Mathieu Ravignat, a former communist and one of the many largely-anonymous NDP candidates to win in Quebec.

This, of course, leaves Prime Minister Stephen Harper with a tough decision to make: he needs a new Minister of Foreigh Affairs. With the world in the state it's currently in, he'll need to choose very wisely.

The first impulse of many would be to assume that Harper will appoint the new Ajax-Pickering MP Chris Alexander -- who knocked off Mark Holland last night -- to fill this role. While Alexander has no experience as a Parliamentarian and no experience as a Minister, he does have experience as Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan.

Even as a rookie, he's a real contender for the job.

But his lack of experience places a notable obstacle in his past. Being a Minister is often as much about whether the Minister can defend his actions in Question period as it is about what the Minister does.

If Harper decides to adopt discretion as the better part of valour and not appoint a rookie MP to such a crucial post, the question may wind up being not who will be Foreign Affairs Minister, but who will be Minister of National Defence.

Simply put, if Chris Alexander is not named Foreign Affairs Minister, it will almost certainly be Peter MacKay. Fortunately, Harper has two capable replacements to take MacKay's place.

Edmonton-Centre MP Laurie Hawn's defense of the F-35 deal has infuriated opponents of the purchase precisely because he soundly demonstrates the need for the jets, establishes the F-35 as the plane for Canada, and doesn't give undue attention to underqualified technical nay-sayers.

Vegreville-Wainright MP Leon Benoit is unquestionably a dark horse for the role. But he shouldn't be. As a Reform Party MP, Benoit served as National Defence Critic. At a time when the Chretien government was purchasing used and non-seaworthy submarines from Britain, Benoit was the man tasked with standing up for the Canadian Forces to a government determined to maintain them (or not) on the cheap.

In a perfect world, Lawrence Cannon would continue as Foreign Affairs Minister. But thanks to Mathiew Ravignat (in this instance), a perfect world it is not. Fortunately, Prime Minister Harper has some options to look to.

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