Speculation about Jim Flaherty’s future heats up ahead of cabinet shuffle

Andy Radia

The waiting game in Ottawa continues.

Stephen Harper was supposed to announce a major cabinet shuffle this week but for a lot of reasons that didn't happen. Many are now expecting the shuffle to take place next week.

Because of the delay, it appears columnists, analysts and pundits seem to jumping the gun a little bit.

How else could you explain a 'what if' column about Jim Flaherty's legacy as Finance Minister.

The very well-written column for Postmedia News included one analyst suggesting that Flaherty will be remembered as on of the three best finance minister in the past fifty years alongside Paul Martin and Michael Wilson.

Great column, but maybe that analysis could wait until after the shuffle and if Flaherty is ousted?

[ Related: Can a cabinet shuffle help the Conservatives change the channel on the Senate scandals? ]

The question of whether Flaherty will or should remain in Finance is, however, a pertinent one.

Flaherty has consistently said that he would like to remain in the post until the books are balanced — supposedly in 2015.

But with recent events, some are suggesting he may call it quits sooner.

Those events include Flaherty's illness: In January, the veteran politician revealed that he was battling a skin disease which required him to take strong doses of a steroid laden medication. The treatment, Flaherty said, has led to side effects such as facial swelling, difficulty sleeping and weight gain.

Observers of Question Period will tell you that Harper's right hand man hasn't been the same since his illness.

Flaherty has also played a role in two uncharacteristic political gaffes of late.

In January, he was criticized by Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson for writing a letter to the federal broadcast regulator urging them to grant a radio licence to a company in his Whitby-Oshawa riding.

And in March, Flaherty was blasted by both the finance industry and even a fellow cabinet minister for pressuring a private sector mortgage lender to raise its interest rates.

On the other hand, Flaherty has been a top performer for the Harper government. He is praised, not only by conservatives in Canada, but from politicos around the world for his stewardship of our economy during the global economic crisis.

And, if he really does want to stay in the post, does Stephen Harper feel an obligation to let him.

The other issue is, if not Flaherty in Finance, then who?

"Whether or not he could or should he be moved feeds a lot of the speculation in Ottawa and what happens to him will trigger much of the other movement around the cabinet table," political analyst Keith Beardsley wrote in his blog last month.

"My guess is that for the time being he will remain if only because a successor is so difficult to find."

[ Related: Ottawa braces for a major cabinet shuffle ]

Will he stay or will he go?

That's a question that only a few Conservative Party insiders have the answer to.

Until that information is shared with the public, the speculation will no doubt continue.

(Photo courtesy of Reuters)

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