Canada Politics

Can a cabinet shuffle help the Conservatives change the channel on the Senate scandals?

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Stephen Harper (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

A poll, released over the weekend, suggests that the Senate scandals are indeed taking their toll on the Conservative Party brand.

According to the Ipsos Reid Survey — commissioned by CTV News — 71 per cent of Canadians disapprove of Prime Minister Harper's handling of it. What's worse is that 38 per cent of identified Conservatives also disapprove.

Conservatives are obviously hoping that they can turn their polling numbers around.

The impending cabinet shuffle, which could come as early as this week, is probably a good first step in changing their fortunes but if Conservatives are thinking that it will lead to a sustainable shift in the polls, they are going to be very disappointed.

[ Related: Conservative Cabinet Minister Vic Toews announces his retirement from politics ]

Not surprisingly, NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus doesn't think a shuffle will help the Tories.

"For us, it's a tired government," he said during a press conference on Monday.

"The fact that they're shifting the deck chairs and trying to put some new faces in and repackage themselves with a bit of rouge, with a bit of blush. It doesn't really change what's underneath.

"Until the prime minister comes clean with Canadians [about the Senate scandal], I think nobody is going to take much interest with what's happening with a cabinet shuffle."

Despite his partisan slant, Angus might just be right.

In an editorial for the Ottawa Citizen, CTV News political analyst Scott Reid claims that history is essentially void of cabinet shuffles that were consequential in election victories.

"[Cabinet shuffles] cannot be asked to rejuvenate a government in the eyes of voters. And they will not handily erase public disdain for a greedy Senator who struggles to remember his own address when there’s a buck to be made," he wrote.

"In fact, the tightly controlled and media-allergic style of the Harper government arguably makes a shuffle even less noteworthy. Truthfully, voters only know Harper. So what advantage could be wrought from changing the players in an anonymous cast?"

[ Related: More bad news for Tories as details of RCMP case against Mike Duffy emerge ]

It's also important to remember that the Senate scandals aren't going anywhere. There's going to be more bad news coming for the Tories.

The RCMP investigations into the Mike Duffy/Nigel Wright affair claimed expenses of others will undoubtedly yield some more information.

Later this summer, the Deloitte audit of Senator Pamela Wallin's expenses will be released.

And there's still the audit of all Senators' expenses — to be conducted by Auditor General Michael Ferguson. Who knows what will come of that.

This isn't to say that a cabinet shuffle is useless. It's just that it's a first step.

To get Canadians back on side, Harper will have to do a lot more than rotate his caucus.

(Photo courtesy of Reuters)

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