Canada Cabinet shuffle aims to boost leader's sagging popularity

There was a shuffle in Ottawa this week, danced to the music of the Gallup poll. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney demoted some of his unpopular Cabinet ministers in an effort to boost the flagging popularity of his Conservative government.

All the ministers kept jobs in the Cabinet and one new seat was added bringing the total number in the Cabinet to 40. Star performers were rewarded, troublemakers took one giant step backwards.

But no one was fired, which led Liberal Party critic Jean Chr'etien to say that the prime minister was trying to win a popularity contest. ``If they are not competent in one job I don't see how they will be competent in another job,'' said Mr. Chr'etien, who himself held a number of top Cabinet posts when Pierre Trudeau was prime minister.

Prime Minister Mulroney may be running a popularity contest in the capital but not in the rest of the country. His standing in the latest Gallup poll dropped 20 percentage points since reaching a peak shortly after his victory over the Liberal Party last September. Forty percent of Canadians support the Conservatives, down from 60 percent last fall. But over the same period, the Liberal opposition has not made much headway. It is stuck with 33 percent of the support of the electorate. The Liberal leader , John Turner, has apparently not gained from the Mulroney slump.

The New Democratic Party has. The mildly socialist NDP jumped from 21 percent to 26 percent in the polls. Not enough to win an election, but enough to make the Liberals nervous about the No. 2 spot.

These are early days for Brian Mulroney. His Progressive Conservative Party has 211 seats in the 282 seat House of Commons. His mandate has three or four years to run.

After the Cabinet shuffle this week the prime minister flew to Vancouver to mend political fences on the west coast. He has been criticized for ignoring British Columbia and will hold a meeting of his senior Cabinet ministers.

In the Cabinet shuffle, the biggest loser was Suzanne Blais-Grenier, a freshman member of Parliament from Quebec who lost the post of minister of the environment and is now the more junior minister of transport. She had angered environmental groups by suggesting that mining and logging in national parks might be a possibility. She was seen as not being tough enough on acid rain. The new minister of the environment is Tom McMillan who was promoted from the tourism portfolio. In recent years, the environ ment minister has acted as an advocate for environmental groups.

Solicitor General Elmer MacKay was demoted to revenue minister -- chief tax collector. He caused a stir in Parliament after conferring with New Brunswick's Tory premier about a police investigation.

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