31 October 2008

Harper improves approach ... but is it enough?

The new federal cabinet shows considerable improvement over the last. The number of women has increased from 23 per cent to 29 per cent. This should, one would hope, contribute to more humane governance. It still isn't close to the 50 per cent women deserve but it is, at least, a significant improvement. Women remain heavily disadvantaged in a macho political system designed by men for men, but that isn't Harper's fault.

It's always good to see an Aboriginal face at the highest levels of government, so appointing Nunavut's Leona Aqlukkaq as Minister of Health is a welcome move. An important portfolio at that and one she has experience in.

It will be interesting to see what becomes of the portfolio Minister of State for Democratic Reform. God knows we desperately need some democratic reform, starting with our electoral system. However, if the ministry is just a tool to implement an elected Senate, it will be largely a waste. Not that an elected Senate wouldn't be better than an unelected one, but reforming a redundant institution is hardly a priority. Must keep our fingers crossed here.

Appointing Jim Prentice Minister of the Environment indicates Harper is taking climate change a little more seriously. Not only was Prentice a star in the last cabinet, he's also a Calgarian. As such, he can tangle with the oil company chiefs without being considered an outsider, and that's of no small importance for an environment minister.

So the new government is not without its promise. However the big worry remains, and that of course is the environment. Global warming looms over us like the sword of Damocles, yet both Harper and Prentice still talk about "balancing" the environment and the economy, weasel talk that likely means they won't do what is necessary to adequately reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There is no room for balance here. The only sensible approach is to ensure a healthy environment and then design the economy to fit into it.

But perhaps I'm too skeptical. Perhaps that is what the Prime Minister does mean by balance. If so, then the new cabinet may be a success. If Harper is willing to slacken his iron grip and unleash his ministers to do their jobs, and if he is willing to work constructively with the opposition, this minority government could do some good work.

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