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Harper appoints new Heritage minister

Yesterday’s cabinet shuffle in Stephen Harper’s government included moving Josee Verner into Bev Oda’s position as minister of Canadian Heritage. Verner, who was first elected in the Quebec City riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent in 2006, was previously minister of international co-operation and minister for la Francophonie and official languages.

Oda’s performance had been criticized on several fronts, but just what the change will mean in general and for the publishing industry specifically remains to be seen since, in trademark Harper style, none of the ministers were allowed to speak to the media about their new positions yesterday. Most analysts, particularly the Toronto Star’s Martin Knelman, point to the importance of Verner’s Quebec and francophone roots:

Enter Verner, the new minister of Canadian heritage, who took 58 per cent of the vote in her Quebec City riding in the last election. She works well in both languages. She is considered progressive and more likely to be embraced by the arts community.

Even more crucial is her popularity in Quebec City, where 2008 looms as a very big year, and where the heritage minister will be required to sparkle in a way that translates into votes.
Next July marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Samuel de Champlain, who established the first permanent settlement of Europeans in Canada.

That is going to be the occasion for a massive year-long party featuring the Cirque du Soleil, the Roman Catholic Church, an exhibit from the Louvre, world hockey championship games and the world’s francophonie summit, attended by leaders of 72 French-speaking governments.

Ottawa has promised to contribute $110 million, of which $40 million will come from the heritage ministry.

There can be no doubt that in 2008, the Conservatives have to sparkle in Quebec as never before if they hope to win a majority in the next election. As the new heritage minister, Verner is being given the job of making sure that amid the hoopla in Canada’s most historic city, nobody rains on Harper’s parade.

It all makes this Quillblogger think that publishers and writers looking for more funding should follow a bit of advice that comedian Shaun Majumder offered Canada’s perpetually under-funded aboriginal peoples in a This Hour Has 22 Minutes episode earlier this year: you might want to think about moving to Quebec.