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Winners, losers and the victim of short-term memory

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We, the chattering media classes, love to pick winners and losers in cabinet shuffles. But when Manitoba's regional minister and senior government MP, Vic Toews, was shuffled from Treasury Board to Public Safety, it was hard to figure out exactly what happened. In a rare moment of sober reflection, Prime Minister Stephen Harper seems to have tried to move people into jobs where he thinks they will do the best job and not a place where they will inflict the greatest harm.

Moving from TB to PS is a lateral move to be sure; it's not a demotion and it's hard to see where it's a promotion. Both are A-list cabinet jobs and given the trouble Toews has been through in the past couple of years, it's a testament to his internal political acumen that he's been able to keep a good job in cabinet. This is a prime minister who's not afraid to knee-cap underperforming or incompetent ministers. You'll find the latest evidence of this on Ontario MP and former Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt's haunches.

Interestingly, national news organizations saw Toews' move to Public Safety, and the insertion of Stockwell Day as the new Treasury Board president as a sign that Harper wanted a stronger, steadier, more fiscally conservative hand on TB as the government heads into what is expected to be a vicious cost-cutting exercise, designed to reduce the burgeoning federal deficit. The Globe and Mail's Jane Taber certainly saw it this way:

"Moving fiscal Conservative and former Alberta finance minister Stockwell Day into the key role of Treasury Board president signals the Prime Minister needs a disciplinarian in that post to tell his colleagues "no" when they come begging for more money."

I'm not entirely sure if Day is any more fiscally Conservative, or conservative for that matter, than Toews. As for saying 'no' to colleagues, best to ask Manitoba's other Tory MPs about how good Toews is at dismissing their needs and wants. But Day is closer to the prime minister and probably a bit more respected within the Tory caucus. And he wears splendid suits.

You do have to give Toews some credit for landing on his feet. Although the suggestion he isn't conservative enough, or tough enough, to oversee budget cutting is unflattering, he no doubt is loving his new assignment as the country's top spy/border guard/anti-terrorism guru. And perhaps not being the guy with his hand on the budget-slashing knife is a blessing, not a curse.

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With Toews' stock rising, who in Manitoba's Tory caucus is sliding out of favor? Winnipeg South Rod Bruinooge has been lurking near the bottom of the caucus stock market for some time after his incomprehensible decision to reveal himself as the chair of a parliamentary pro-life caucus. But he may have been replaced at the bottom of the heap by St. Boniface MP Shelly Glover who pulled off one of the great live-TV boners of all time recently.

In a CBC Newsworld panel discussion on the recent prorogation of parliament, Glover was asked by host Evan Solomon to comment on the tirade delivered by Calgary political scientist and former Harper chief of staff Tom Flanagan, who accused his former boss of "childish" attempts at justifying the prorogation. Flanagan's comments were widely reported. Glover, however, had apparently not heard of them.

When Solomon asked Glover to respond to Flanagan's comments, she laid a huge egg when she admitted she had never heard of Flanagan, Harper's mentor and the ideological godfather of the Reform Party movement:

"I've hard some of the allegations made by someone named Tom Flanagan -- I don't know who he is. I have never seen him on Parliament Hill. He is a Canadian I understand and he's entitled to his opinion."

Glover admitted before the egg appeared that she was having trouble with her ear piece and so did not hear Solomon's intro, in which he identified Flanagan as a former chief of staff and actually played a clip of Flanagan's rant. Fair enough. But in his question to Glover, he again identifies Flanagan as someone who was "very close to the prime minister" and "a former chief of staff." That was not apparently enough to twig Glover to what was going on.

Tory bloggers have attempted to spin this as a deliberate attempt to disown Flanagan for criticizing Harper. Sort of a "he's dead to me now" kind of approach. Watch the video. That doesn't fly.

Glover's victory in St. Boniface was a great get for the Tories. Her background as a police spokeswoman makes her telegenic, confident under the television lights, and more than a little articulate. However, running the morning copper news conference and hand-to-hand combat on a Newsworld panel are two entirely different challenges.

I know the Conservatives eschew academics and intellectuals as elites who are not in touch with the common people of this great country. But having to admit on national television that you don't know a man who was probably as influential as anyone in this country in rebuilding the right wing of Canadian politics in the post-Mulroney era is a strange way of ensuring people don't confuse you with an academic or an intellectual.

The real question is, will Ms. Short-Term Memory be punished, or rewarded, for inadvertently disowning Flanagan?

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.

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