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Chretien Shuffles Canadian Cabinet

Politics: Shake-up follows the surprise resignation of the man widely seen as the prime minister's eventual heir.

January 16, 2002|WILLIAM ORME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OTTAWA — Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien overhauled his Cabinet on Tuesday, dismissing seven ministers and bringing 10 new faces into the government just a day after the country was stunned by the resignation of a popular Cabinet member who had been Chretien's presumptive heir.

The restructuring was the most significant development yet in the unofficial but quite public race to succeed Chretien as head of the Liberal Party when--or rather if, as skeptics here say--the long-serving prime minister decides to retire, political analysts say.

The shake-up also reflects the changed political environment in Canada four months after the terrorist attacks in the United States, with much greater emphasis on domestic security and military preparedness than in recent decades.

Brian Tobin, a garrulous and ambitious Newfoundlander who had served as minister of industry until he abruptly announced Monday that he was quitting Parliament, had long been considered Chretien's preferred successor but had been eclipsed by Cabinet rivals in recent months.

Tobin, who said he was leaving government for family reasons, may have preferred to resign rather than lose his undeclared campaign for the party leadership, Canadian political commentators said.

Now the political spotlight has shifted to the newly designated deputy prime minister, John Manley, who as foreign minister had been propelled to unexpected prominence by the Sept. 11 terror strikes.

Manley became Canada's point man in the coordination of security policies with the United States, winning plaudits at home and in Washington for his vocal support of the Bush administration's campaign against the Al Qaeda terrorist network in Afghanistan and beyond. In a coincidence of timing, Time magazine's Canada edition honored Manley on Tuesday as its Canadian "newsmaker of the year."

"There are many surprises in public life, and we have had a few in the past 24 hours," Manley said.

Manley will give up the foreign affairs portfolio but will assume overall responsibility for security issues, while supervising state-owned corporations and major national public works projects. In concentrating all those areas in the deputy prime minister's office for the first time, Chretien is in effect creating a new government position, with many of the hands-on responsibilities that the prime minister had directly assumed, Manley said Tuesday.

But Chretien, 68, who was first elected prime minister in 1993, again denied that he plans to step down any time soon. "I had a walk in the snow last night, and I'm staying," he told reporters as he announced the Cabinet changes in a nationally televised news conference.

The fiscally conservative finance minister, Paul Martin, who survived the Cabinet shake-up, is also considered a strong candidate to succeed Chretien.

General elections were last held in 2000 and, if the Liberal majority holds, they need not be called again until 2005. But under the parliamentary system, Chretien could step down and be replaced by a new Liberal leader before his term expires.

Speculation in Ottawa, meanwhile, focused on the surprise resignation of Tobin, which brought a halt, at least temporarily, to one of the most colorful and closely watched careers in Canada's recent political history.

Though just 47, Tobin has been a fixture on the national political scene since he first arrived as a brash backbencher here two decades ago.

At Chretien's request, Tobin had stepped down as Newfoundland's chief executive to join the Cabinet in Ottawa in what was widely interpreted as a move to position him for the prime minister's office.

Tobin's sudden departure led to suggestions by opposition leaders that some undisclosed scandal rather than family obligations had prompted the move.

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