You can start the clock on Fantino.
If the whispers on Parliament Hill are to be believed, it’s just a matter of time before the embattled minister for Angering Veterans takes his long walk off into the sunset.
Yes, the Hill gossip says that Julian Fantino will be bounced out of cabinet in January for a younger model.
Unsurprising, even considering that the Prime Minister has gone to bat for the quickly-weakening minister. You’re an asset to the government until you’re not. And Fantino is as big a liability as you could imagine.
So, when Canadians are still in their Christmas comas, the word is that Julian Fantino will quietly acknowledge his decision to not seek a second term as an MP — health reasons, time with his grand-kids, whatever — and the Prime Minister will shake up cabinet one last time before the 2015 election.
Considering that Julian Fantino has done the unfortunately remarkable feat of turning a sword issue into a shield — Harperese for issues that Conservatives can win on, versus those that they’re forced to play defence with — it’s obvious he has to go.
Of course, feeding the opposition’s gluttony for punishment would be a rather stumbling communications move to make, so the Prime Minister is going to need a smooth operator to fill Fantino’s ramshackle throne.
To that end, the speculation has focused squarely on one guy: Erin O’Toole.
The MP for Durham — ironically, the seat that similarly tragic minister Bev Oda resigned — O’Toole is a young veteran (an Air Force trainer and helicopter pilot). He is a fantastic communicator and a capable politician. If you want to craft that shield into a sword in short order, he’s your guy.
But cabinet shuffles, even mini ones, don’t just affect one or two posts.
The last micro-shuffle was due to none other than Bev Oda’s resignation. The man chosen to fill her seat? Julian Fantino.
Fantino moved to International Development as capable technocrat Bernard Valcourt went to Associate Defence Minister (responsible for fixing the F-35 boondoggle in Fantino’s wake.)
Valcourt later went to Aboriginal Affairs to push out flagging flat-footer John Duncan.
I’m told that there’s more than one minister fretting.
Ministries are sometimes expected to update their mandate letters — essentially, gameplans to carry out the government’s mandate. Sometimes those mandates sit there, unfulfilled, for some time. Sometimes ministries run out of things to do. Sometimes those mandates serve as a laundry list of abject failures.
Four years of Julian Fantino mandate letters must look something like: ‘convey the government’s position on fighter jet acquisitions: nope. Improve Canadian international aid to Haiti: nope. Sell the government’s new Veteran’s Charter: nope.’
Usually, a request from the centre — the PMO — to update your mandate letter is a sign that you’re either going to step-up, or get shipped out.
For a minister like Kellie Leitch, on the other hand, her mandate for the past year has been to parry accusations that her office is failing to take violence against First Nations women seriously. To that end, her track record is mixed.
Sure, the government has introduced an ACTION! Plan that has been generally well-received. On the other, her dogmatic opposition to a national inquiry has bordered on illogical.
But, despite a better year than most, I’m told that Leitch’s office was asked to update her mandate letter. That could indicate that they’re looking for change in that office. While I’m unsure of what that new letter looks like, it has spurred some speculation that she’s about to be heading elsewhere.
One way or the other, the speculation that this cabinet iteration was supposed to formulate Harper’s ‘team’ for 2015 appears, at least slightly, wrong.
Note: This is my last column for Loonie Politics! It’s been a fun run, but I’m off to Vice, now, where I’ll be chasing ledes and probably writing significantly fewer snarky economics treatises.
Editor: We thank Justin and wish him all the best.
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Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling