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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 15:18 GMT
Canadian PM undercuts rivals
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien
The reshuffle bolsters Chretien's hold on the leadership
By Barry R Smith in Toronto

Prime Minister Jean Chretien's cabinet reshuffle last week - his most sweeping since taking office in 1993 - has staggered Canadian political observers.

I had a walk in the snow last night and I'm staying

Prime Minister Jean Chretien

In all, 10 new ministers were named, 13 ministers were assigned to new portfolios and eight others sacked or retired.

The shake-up was prompted by the resignation of popular Industry Minister Brian Tobin, a presumed heir apparent to the prime ministership and former premier of Newfoundland.

Mr Tobin's departure from the federal cabinet vacated a plum ministry, offering a golden opportunity to elevate the loyal and dismiss the controversial or lacklustre.

Most significantly, it paved the way for the 68-year-old premier to tighten his firm grip on the governing Liberal Party leadership.

Planning to stay

Mr Chretien's savvy move has, at least for the time being, thrown eager leadership rivals off balance and underlined his determination to retain the top job.

Deputy Prime Minister John Manley
Mr Manley is now known as 'minister-of-everything'

"I had a walk in the snow last night and I'm staying," a clearly satisfied Mr Chretien told reporters.

He was alluding to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's remarks that a walk in a snowstorm led him to resign as leader.

"I will go when I decide I will go. But as long as I'm prime minister, I am prime minister. Another day, another snowstorm - in July - I might decide to go."

The most striking appointment was former Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley who became deputy prime minister, with a beefed-up portfolio, including security.

Commentators have remarked wryly that the new job makes Mr Manley "minister-of-everything".

He was quickly dispatched to Pakistan to congratulate Islamabad on its co-operation with the coalition against terrorism, before moving on to India.

All change

Replacing Mr Manley at Foreign Affairs is Bill Graham, who has been vaulted from the backbenches.

A former Chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Mr Graham's rise to a senior ministerial posting was unexpected and hotly criticised by the fractured opposition parties.

Another Liberal leadership hopeful, the long-serving former health minister, Allan Rock, takes over Tobin's industry brief.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray, who was also the longest serving Liberal cabinet minister, will take charge of the Canadian section of the International Joint Commission that manages adjoining inland water issues with the United States.

Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham,
The opposition has criticised Bill Graham's appointment to foreign affairs

Also out is former public works minister, Alfonso Gagliano, who is embroiled in a highly public scandal over alleged attempts to secure jobs for two friends at a crown corporation that he oversaw.

Mr Gagliano who has not been criticised by the prime minister, was swiftly appointed ambassador to Denmark, sidestepping the custom of informing host countries of intended diplomatic postings.

The appointment of Mr Gagliano, who has been dogged by years of suspicion and may yet face a judicial inquiry, has not gone down well.

"Now there truly will be something rotten in the State of Denmark," said Canadian Alliance Party deputy leader Rahim Jaffer.

Mr Chretien's cabinet shuffle may have been viewed as a masterstroke, but the minister of finance, Paul Martin, is still perched comfortably in high office.

Mr Martin, who has held the position since 1993, is the indisputable front-runner for an eventual Liberal leadership contest.

The reshuffle has, however, significantly undermined his supporter's manoeuvrings to oust Mr Chretien sooner rather than later.

See also:

18 Jun 01 | Americas
Canadian anger at UK knighthoods
22 Apr 01 | Business
Quebec agreement signed
06 Feb 01 | Americas
Bush and Chretien break the ice
29 Nov 00 | Americas
Chretien: I'm here to stay
17 Jan 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Canada
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