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Conservative Senator and Public Works Minister Michael Fortier speaks to reporters on Tuesday in Ottawa.

Conservative Senator and Public Works Minister Michael Fortier speaks to reporters on Tuesday in Ottawa.

Justice Minister Vic Toews speaks in Ottawa on Tuesday following caucus.

Justice Minister Vic Toews speaks in Ottawa on Tuesday following caucus.

Tony Clement, Minister of Health, speaks with reporters on Tuesday.

Tony Clement, Minister of Health, speaks with reporters on Tuesday.

Fortier 'didn't want to run' in federal election

Updated Tue. Feb. 7 2006 10:29 PM ET

CTV.ca News Staff

Michael Fortier, Canada's new minister of public works, said he didn't run in the federal election because "it wasn't the right situation" for him.

Fortier faced questions on Tuesday about the controversial way in which he picked up a plum cabinet post despite the fact he didn't seek election.

"I didn't run in the election because I didn't want to run in the election," Fortier told reporters after attending a Tory caucus meeting.

"I had a great career, five young kids, and so it wasn't the right situation for me to run when the election came around. That's just the simple truth."

Newly sworn-in Prime Minister Stephen Harper sparked a controversy on Monday when he included the prominent Montreal businessman, lawyer and key party organizer into his cabinet.

The move gives the Tory Party -- which failed to win a single seat in any of Canada's three biggest cities -- a prominent presence in Montreal. But it meant Harper had to first appoint Fortier to the Senate, which flies in the face of his repeated calls for an elected Senate.

Fortier reminded reporters about the condition attached to his position: he must resign his Senate seat in the next election, in which he will run.

"And so the seat will remain or become vacant again and hence, if there are elections at that point that are organized for the Senate seat, then there will be elections," Fortier added.

But why did he take the post if he didn't want to run in the first place?

"Well, because the prime minister phoned me and there was this gaping hole in the Montreal-area," said Fortier.

Fortier played an important role in the Conservative campaign that elected 10 Tories in Quebec in the Jan. 23 election.

His new responsibilities put him in charge of a department that, under the Liberal government, administered the now-defunct federal sponsorship program in which millions of taxpayer dollars were mishandled or funnelled to Liberal friends.

Fortier wasn't Harper's only controversial appointment.

Eyebrows arched across Ottawa when ex-Liberal industry minister David Emerson turned up at Rideau Hall to be sworn in as Harper's minister of international trade.

In defence of his defection, Emerson said he thought he would be more helpful to the people of his Vancouver riding sitting in cabinet rather than in opposition.

On Tuesday, fellow cabinet ministers stood by Emerson's decision.

"I want to say personally that I have always gotten along with Mr. Emerson. I found him to be a non-partisan individual," said Justice Minister Vic Toews.

"I would have never necessarily considered him a member of our party, but he was non-partisan, he was motivated in terms of his policy on a principled basis and I think that's why there was this coming together of Mr. Emerson and our party."

Adding to the harsh criticism levelled at Emerson by Liberal and NDP members, the advocacy group Democracy Watch said it's taking its complaint over Emerson's decision -- to accept a Tory cabinet position while he was still technically a Liberal cabinet minister -- to the federal ethics commissioner.

Parliamentary secretaries

On Tuesday, Harper named 26 people as parliamentary secretaries. Their job will be to assist the cabinet ministers.

Some of the notables who Harper passed over for cabinet got what some could see as a consolation prize:

  • Diane Ablonczy (Alta.) -- finance
  • Jason Kenney (Alta.) -- multiculturalism
  • James Moore (B.C.) -- public works
  • Steven Fletcher (Man.) -- health
  • Helena Guergis (Ont.) -- trade  

Parliamentary secretaries are members of the Privy Council. They are subject to the government's conflict of interest and post-employment codes. 

Harper announced one more appointment on Tuesday: He made B.C. MP Jay Hill his chief government whip, which would put Hill charge of party discipline and ensuring MPs vote the party line. Hill will be made a privy councillor.

Hill was the government House leader in opposition during the last Parliament.

 

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