MacKay to be shuffled?

The Department of National Defence has often appeared incompetent, inefficient, and even spendthrift in recent years. But through it all, Ostensible Defence Minister Peter MacKay has remained secure in his job.

Until now. It looks like change may finally be coming to the department’s leadership. According to the Ottawa rumour mill, Mr. MacKay will be losing his job soon, and other senior officials with the department may also be moving on.

Rather than being drummed out of cabinet, it seems that Mr. MacKay will likely be made either Foreign Affairs or Justice Minister, proving that forgetting about millions of dollars is nothing when it comes to friends (Paul McLeod, “Defence Dept. braces for MacKay’s ouster, other upheaval,” Halifax Chronicle Herald, 26 June 2012):

The Defence Department might be on the verge of its most sweeping change in two decades, with the top four jobs possibly switching hands by the fall.

There is widespread speculation that Central Nova MP Peter MacKay will lose his job as defence minister in a federal cabinet shuffle expected next month.

Internal reports are that staff are already bracing for the move.

MacKay has had the job for almost five years, which is a long time in defence minister terms. If he holds on until late July, he will pass Art Eggleton as the longest-serving defence minister in Canadian history.

Eggleton served from 1997 to 2002 before Jean Chretien dumped him for handing an untendered contract to an ex-girlfriend. In contrast, MacKay is expected to move to another high-profile portfolio such as justice or foreign affairs.

MacKay is an avid champion of the Armed Forces but has had a stormy year. Much of it has been personal.

In the fall, internal emails contradicted his story that he was witnessing a demonstration when a search and rescue helicopter picked him up from a vacation at a fishing lodge.

Other Search and Rescue employees defended MacKay, saying the flight would have taken place regardless.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes great care to avoid the appearance of punishing his ministers, says Scott Taylor, a longtime military analyst and editor of Esprit de Corps magazine.

“The controversy is probably what’s keeping him in the post for the moment,” Taylor said of MacKay.

“It’s kind of crazy, but they need to calm the waters enough to put him in a boat.”

Taylor said top military brass widely expect MacKay to be shuffled out of defence and are betting on Immigration Minister Jason Kenney or Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird taking over.

In April, the federal auditor general took the Defence Department to task for downplaying the cost of new F-35 fighter jets by billions of dollars. The file was later moved out of defence altogether and over to Public Works and Government Services Canada.

That has led many to believe that Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino, who is in charge of procurement, is also on the way out.

In the House of Commons, Fantino rarely strays from talking points and often comes across as stilted. He has become a favourite target for opposition MPs.

But while cabinet shuffles are routine, this one could line up with high-level turnover in the Forces and the bureaucracy.

Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk, Canada’s top soldier, is expected to retire soon. Harper will appoint his replacement, but Taylor expects Harper will shuffle cabinet first to get the opinion of the new defence minister.

As deputy minister of defence, Robert Fonberg oversees the bureaucracy in the department. Like MacKay, he has served in his role since 2007. One government source said communication between the two men has broken down.

Fonberg is also believed to be on the brink of retirement. If all four men leave by the end of the year, it would be the biggest turnover in the department since the end of the Mulroney government.

Photo credit: DND

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