Dec 02 2010 OTTAWA - For the cameras, it was all warm handshakes and team cheers for Conservative-MP elect Julian Fantino at his inaugural federal caucus meeting.
But in the corridors, the former Ontario top cop's arrival was met with furious speculation about how quickly he would be put into cabinet and who might have to step aside or be prodded into stepping down early to make room for the new star.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper ordered the usually locked doors to the Conservative caucus room thrown open Tuesday for a euphoric public greeting of Fantino and fellow Hill newbie Robert Sopuck, of Manitoba at the beginning of the weekly meeting.
Both the Conservatives and the Liberals have been trying to put the best spin on their respective byelection wins. The Tories took two ridings, including the long-time Liberal stronghold of Vaughan just north of Toronto. The Liberals lost Vaughan, but unexpectedly wrested the Winnipeg North riding from the NDP.
Harper lauded Fantino's 40 years in policing, leading up to his last job as commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police.
"He managed to overcome two, two decades long of Liberal hold on the riding and will be an important part of our Conservative team's efforts to make sure we get these crime bills through Parliament...," Harper said.
Conservatives who spoke on condition of anonymity say they have little doubt that law-and-order standard bearer Fantino will turn up in cabinet.
They point to a January shuffle, Harper's preferred month for rearranging the frontbench seating plan. The House of Commons will be on its month-long hiatus in January and ministers in new portfolios will have the time to get acquainted with their new files and responsibilities.
New Harper chief-of-staff Nigel Wright will also have an opportunity to have a hand in the shuffle.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, one of the top players in cabinet, declined to speculate publicly on Fantino's future.
"That'll be up to prime minister obviously, but you did see that we welcomed Mr. Fantino and he had a historic breakthrough for the party in a riding that is one of the core Liberal constituencies in the country," said Kenney.
The future of a number of cabinet ministers has suddenly become more of a pressing issue with Fantino's arrival. Former House leader Jay Hill and Environment Minister Jim Prentice decided in the last few months to leave politics. Several others are contemplating whether to run in the next election that might come as soon as the federal budget in a two or three months.
Several ministers who have been in the Harper cabinet since the Conservatives first came to power five years ago are thought to be weighing whether to run again in the next election, including International Development Minister Bev Oda, Transport Minister Chuck Strahl and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.
Fantino would seem to be a natural fit for Toews' Department of Public Safety, but the current occupant of that job deflected questions about whether Fantino was nipping at his heels at public safety.
"I'll tell you, I'm so happy to see Mr. Fantino here," Toews said. "He's a wonderful addition, he's been a great public servant in Ontario for more than 40 years -- more than happy to be in the caucus with Mr. Fantino," Toews said.
Will Toews run in the next election?
"Why wouldn't I? I've run four times now, the last time the good people of Provencher gave me about 65 per cent of the vote...at this point I still have every intention of running in the next election."