James Moore’s appointment as Industry Minister is a promotion that rewards competence with headaches. The 37-year-old Conservative from British Columbia did a valiant job as Minister of Heritage, constructively working with the cultural sector despite its inborn suspicion of his party. For all his good work, Moore has now been handed a portfolio that chews through politicians like a wood chipper through balsa.
Canada has had five ministers of industry in the seven years since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister in 2007. None have been lightweights (You may snicker about Maxime Bernier, but his largely ignored work on foreign competition was laudable). But all have departed the position with less credibility than they had at the start of their tenure. Tony Clement took the fall for the Potash debacle; Christian Paradis fared equally poorly in handling the Petronas-Progress Energy deal and was then upstaged by the Prime Minister in approving CNOOC’s bid for Nexen. Indeed, with the Prime Minister’s Office taking a heavy hand in the portfolio, industry ministers have often been messengers who exist to be shot.
But Moore’s arrival might signal a shift. He’s one of the few politicians who gets to give advice to the Prime Minister, rather than just receiving it. And having first been appointed to cabinet at 32, he qualifies as both one of the “younger Members of Parliament” and a “steady hand” touted in this cabinet shuffle. Further, his tenure in the Heritage portfolio demonstrated some deftness with both policy and political salesmanship.
At the very least, Harper is installing a trusted lieutenant in a key role. The cabinet shuffle was billed as leaving the government’s “economic team in place,” with the Ministers of Finance and International Trade, along with the President of the Treasury Board, keeping their jobs. Considerable attention has been given to Jim Flaherty’s unbroken tenure in Finance, but the Industry Minister is just as important to Canada’s economic future—perhaps more so. As we exit the age of governments providing stimulus for the economy, our future growth will come from smart industrial policy, not just smart federal budgets. Many of our country’s most-pressing issues—from management of the telecom sector to foreign direct investment—now fall within Moore’s portfolio. Cynics will say he’s just another sock puppet manipulated by the PMO. But let’s allow for a moment of optimism: Perhaps Moore will be the Industry Minister who finally brings some industriousness to the ministry. Without it, no number of steady hands will save the ship.