Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Women make historic gains in cabinet shuffle

Manitobans Glover, Bergen promoted to front bench

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Shelley Glover, centre, arrives with family members on Parliament Hill on Monday, where the Saint Boniface MP was named the minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

Shelley Glover, centre, arrives with family members on Parliament Hill on Monday, where the Saint Boniface MP was named the minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

For the first time in the province's history, women MPs will be calling the shots for Manitoba around the federal cabinet table.

Former Winnipeg Police Service media spokeswoman Shelly Glover becomes Manitoba's new senior MP and regional minister and will be dealing with big-ticket items like the extension of rapid transit and new flood protection.

The 46-year-old Glover was promoted to minister of heritage and official languages in a cabinet shuffle Prime Minister Harper announced on his Twitter profile Monday morning.

The Saint Boniface MP, first elected in 2008, was also named to Harper's powerful priorities and planning cabinet committee where all key decisions are discussed and made. The first big item on her plate is negotiating the new Building Canada Fund split with the Selinger government and Mayor Sam Katz.

Harper also bumped up Portage-MP Candice Bergen to cabinet, giving her the junior portfolio of minister of state for social development. Bergen will not be in charge of a government department per se, but be responsible for filling in for other government ministers when needed. Bergen will be working with Jason Kenney, who moves from his immigration portfolio to become the minister of employment and social development, the new name for what was the human resources ministry.

The promotion of Glover and Bergen also increases the number of women in Harper's cabinet by two to 12 and, according to some observers, brings a fresher, younger look to the Conservative government at a time when they are down in popular support against Justin Trudeau's Liberals and hounded by the Senate spending scandal.

"What an amazing opportunity," Glover said in a short address posted on Harper's YouTube channel. "I want to thank the prime minister for believing in me and giving me this chance to help my community and my country."

Glover has big shoes to fill. She replaces former Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who retired from political life a week ago. Past Manitoba regional ministers include for Tory MP Jake Epp and Liberal MPs Reg Alcock and Lloyd Axworthy.

"I will do my very best, as I have always tried to do," Glover added in the YouTube clip.

University of Manitoba political scientist Paul Thomas said the addition of Glover and Bergen to cabinet can also be seen as an attempt by Harper to make his government more softer around the edges. Glover and Bergen were unavailable Monday.

Glover was promoted just weeks after she became locked in a dispute with Elections Canada over her 2011 election expenses. Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand went so far as to write to the Speaker of the House of Commons, saying Glover and another Manitoba Conservative MP, James Bezan, could no longer sit as MPs until their returns were adjusted. Last month Glover backed down and filed a new expense claim with Elections Canada.

Thomas said while both Glover and Bergen are tireless Harper supporters, their presence in cabinet is intended to make the Conservatives more appealing to women voters, traditionally the territory of the NDP and Liberals.

Thomas also said with more women sitting around the cabinet table, it might impact the type of issues brought forward, such as child care.

"The Conservatives under Stephen Harper have had a tough time getting women's values reflected," he said. "This could bring more attention. Women bring a different sensibility to these jobs."

What it also shows is a vote of confidence by Harper for Glover and Bergen, he said, adding both are strong defenders of the government and do not wilt under criticism either in Question Period or in television interviews.

"They are effective communicators," he said. "They come across as credible."

Glover rises to cabinet having served as parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance, and Bergen was the national face of the government in the dismantling of the long-gun registry. She was also parliamentary secretary to the minister of public safety. "This is an important step in their careers," Thomas added.

But it's a step that left one MP out.

Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia MP Steven Fletcher was dropped from cabinet, something he blamed Monday on gender and geography.

Because of its population, the province only has two cabinet positions, and as Harper had said he wanted to promote more women, that left him out.

"I would have preferred to have left cabinet the traditional way -- with a sex scandal," he joked Monday. "There's been a lot worse things that have happened to me. Today is just a bump in the road."

Fletcher, the first quadriplegic to serve in the House of Commons and in cabinet, was minister of state for transport. He was first appointed to cabinet as minister of state for democratic reform in 2008.

He said his demotion will give him more time to be an advocate for Manitoba.

"I am quite happy to have served and, you know, the fact is it was the prime minister who said he wanted more female representation in cabinet. I did an excellent job in what I was asked to do. Candice and Shelly are very capable people."

Thomas said as long as the Conservatives stay in government, there's always a chance Fletcher could be brought back into cabinet.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Prime Minister Stephen Harper branded his cabinet shuffle as offering "new faces and experienced hands." How would you describe the new federal cabinet?

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 16, 2013 A4

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Updated on Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at 6:35 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds fact box, adds question for discussion

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