OTTAWA -The material is there to rebuild a decent Cabinet in the wake of foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier, who became a global media sensation as the forgetful former boyfriend who breached security by leaving classified documents with an old flame.
But as Stephen Harper prepares to hammer together an election-ready front bench to digest briefing books over the summer -- hoping they will read them rather than lose them -- the Prime Minister faces an interesting challenge.
He has the right talent in all the wrong places.
Every name raised as ripe for replacement comes from Ontario or Quebec.
Every name worthy of elevation to bigger and better duties comes from Alberta or B. C.
As Mr. Harper prepares to move the boxes for the third time in 28 months, the need for regional balance ensures any dumped weaklings will be replaced by the weak, while strong MPs from heavily represented areas will be sidelined.
It is, of course, unfortunate that location is everything in choosing Cabinet material, particularly given Quebec's Cabinet-quality gene pool is but a puddle while Alberta has a diving tank of talent.
And it's odd how Mr. Harper's Cabinet architects tend to place a much higher priority on geography than gender balance.
Some whispers insist this will be a relatively small changing of the chairs. Given the way the Prime Minister's people manipulate media messages, that could be true or merely a calculated move to calm high-ambition expectations from oft-overlooked backbenchers.
It's true shuffle speculation is only interesting for the 5% of Canadians who actually care which minister answers the Prime Minister's orders on what file.
But the hole left by Mr. Bernier's forced resignation hands the Prime Minister a decent opportunity to invigorate an inner circle that seems stale.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty of Ontario, despite performing a decent rebound from the income trust flip-flop, is fending off a rear-guard push from the government's best minister, Industry's Jim Prentice, to switch places.
Given that Mr. Flaherty furiously resisted precisely this move 10 months ago, it's doubtful he'd accept it now, which has given rise to speculation he could claim a "promotion" as Mr. Bernier's replacement, particularly if interim Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson opts not to seek re-election.
But the most serious optics issue is how to deal with Quebec's under-representation now that native son Bernier has been benched at the back. About the only bulb showing much in the way of political brightness comes from a rookie named Christian Paradis (no, you've never heard of him), holding down the modest role of backup to minister for agriculture.
But if life was fair, more from the West would get in. Consider just a partial list of the talent locked out by having seats in over-represented regions:
Northern Alberta's Kevin Sorenson, Vancouver area MP James Moore and two-term B. C. MP Russ Hiebert clearly rate a shot at bigger things.
There can be no excuse for continuing Calgary's Diane Ablonczy's second-string status as a parliamentary secretary for finance, a task she's managed with flawless efficiency and enthusiasm.
Edmonton MP James Rajotte was among the very first to rally to Harper's side for the Canadian Alliance leadership, a fact seriously overdue for reward beyond his respected performance as a key parliamentary chair. Alas, he calls Edmonton home.
Calgary's Jason Kenney just turned 40 and deserves a birthday bump into a full Cabinet job, having been the go-to troubleshooter on thankless files such as Brenda Martin's imprisonment in Mexico, and he even has Liberals envious of his connections to ethnic groups. Not a chance. Too much Calgary already.
And while she's apparently happy being invisible after the firestorm of fronting the government's environmental agenda, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Rona Ambrose deserves another shot at a front-line gig, particularly given the pathetic under-representation of women in significant portfolios.
But as Stephen Harper casts his eye over Conservative benches for prime Cabinet material, he can only conclude there's too much deadwood in Ontario and Quebec, while all the nails needed to keep things together are out West.
Harper's Cabinet quandary
Too much talent in West, not enough in Ontario or Quebec