Expect Cabinet shuffle and election agenda as Harper gets set to switch back into constant campaign mode [resource politics] – by John Ivison (National Post – February 14, 2013)

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Politics is set to make a comeback in Ottawa this summer, with a Cabinet shuffle, followed in the fall by a prorogation of Parliament, a Throne Speech and a brand new pre-election agenda from the Conservative Party.

In minority government, the Tories knew they could be 36 days from an election at any given time. “Every single day was spent deciding which message to drive,” said one former senior Conservative insider. “Majority government is a different mode of operating – it is an opportunity to govern.”

Stephen Harper has spent the past two years focused on implementing his agenda – striking a free trade deal with Europe, reforming the public service, overhauling immigration, ensuring the sustainability of long-term programs like health transfers and Old Age Security and streamlining the review process for big resource projects.

But at some point he will switch back into constant campaign mode and all the signs suggest the reset button will be hit this summer.

Mr. Harper all but committed to a mid-term Cabinet shuffle on a radio show last summer and sources around Ottawa suggest Jim Flaherty, the Finance Minister, might be gone “sooner rather than later.”

Others like Public Safety Minister Vic Toews might decide they do not plan on running in 2015. Regardless, there is an almost universal belief in Ottawa that the current Cabinet is not the one that will fight the next election.

There are no policy areas more in need of fresh thinking than the axis of aboriginal affairs, natural resources and the environment, which are proving to be the Achilles heel of this government because they come together and hit the Conservatives where it hurts – on the economy.

Last year, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver breathed new life into the previously discredited environmental movement by tarring its adherents as “radicals” whose “ideological agenda threatens to hijack the regulatory system.”

He was, of course, quite right but by saying so, he allowed himself to be portrayed as a climate change denier intent on plundering the planet’s resources, no matter the cost to the environment.

This damage was compounded by ramming through the streamlining of approvals for new oil and mining projects in two juggernaut budget bills.

The result of the government overplaying its hand: First Nations joined forces with the environmentalists, Idle No More and a Conservative credibility gap on the environment that turned into a credibility chasm.

For the rest of this column, please go to the National Post website: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/02/13/john-ivison-stephen-harper-gets-set-to-switch-back-into-constant-campaign-mode-this-summer/

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