BOSTON — CANADIAN Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appointed Canada's first female defense minister Jan. 4 in his first major Cabinet shuffle since April 1991.
Kim Campbell, the minister of justice and rising star of the Progressive Conservative Party, was handed the reins at the Ministry of Defense, taking over from Marcel Masse.
Mr. Mulroney also trimmed from 39 to 35 the number of Cabinet posts, apparently to portray the government as a leaner operation, appointing one new minister and shuffling the jobs of eight others.
Mulroney's Cabinet moves are widely viewed as an election-year shift aimed either at paving the way for a third run as prime minister - or at clearing the decks for a successor.
Speculation has been rife as to whether Mulroney, whose approval rating is only about 20 percent, will lead the Progressive Conservative Party into federal elections expected by fall. Many analysts agree the Cabinet move was too limited to impress voters unhappy with 11.8 percent unemployment. Opposition spokesmen criticized the shuffle as falling short of the belt-tightening warranted by a hard recession.
"I've never seen such a half-hearted Cabinet shuffle," says Rod Murphy, a New Democratic Party member of Parliament from Churchill, Manitoba. "His government has been promising for six months a major structural review and downsizing.... It looks like it ended up being, `How little can I get away with doing?' "
But while even Conservatives acknowledge that the shift was modest given expectations, some say it was a good tactical move.
"He's putting his house in order," says a Conservative official who asked not to be named, "either for his successor, or for himself to fight the election."
Ms. Campbell, a champion of gay rights while serving as justice minister, will head up a Defense Department in retrenchment and whose brass are no more enthusiastic than US military chiefs over the issue of including homosexuals. The move to such a challenging post can be seen either as a slap or a promotion.
"Mulroney was reminding her, and others, that he's still in charge," Mr. Murphy says. "All she is going to preside over is a bunch of base closings."
But Conservative insiders insist that the move could be a savvy boost for her political career.
"I don't think it's because she's being punished," the Conservative source says. "I think its just as likely he's giving her an opportunity to shine."