OTTAWA — Stephen Harper has put a feminine face on his new cabinet while turning to a trio of Ontario heavyweights to help lead the country through tough economic times.
The prime minister vaulted three rookie women MPs into senior ministerial portfolios in a sweeping shuffle Thursday as he launches his newly re-elected government.
The appointments of Leona Aglukkaq to Health, Lisa Raitt to Natural Resources, and P.E.I.'s Gail Shea to Fisheries - as well as Lynne Yelich to a junior position - boosts the number of women in the Conservative cabinet to 11 from seven.
The overhaul expands cabinet to 38 members, up from 31, including 11 ministers of state - so-called junior portfolios.
More women voted for the Conservatives in this month's federal election and Harper seemed prepared to reward them with more seats at the cabinet table.
And in an apparent nod to his newfound strength in vote-rich Ontario, Harper put three MPs from the province in top economic posts as the government grapples with a global financial crisis.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is staying put as the minority Tories seek to project economic and financial stability.
Two other colleagues of Flaherty in the former Mike Harris Ontario government move into other key positions - Tony Clement at Industry and John Baird at Transport.
Clement will quickly have to deal with a manufacturing sector crisis that has hobbled the auto industry in his home province.
Baird will be responsible for doling out billions of dollars in budgeted, but unspent, money for infrastructure projects. That spending is expected to be one of the few stimulative levers the government will have to pull at a time of looming deficits.
Harper said the new cabinet will be charged with protecting Canadians in a time of increasing global economic instability.
"While the fundamentals of Canada's economy remain stronger, more stable and more durable than those of many other nations, it is clear that we are not immune to what happens outside our borders," he said in a statement.
"This is the right team for these times. We will build a foundation of strength that will protect the earnings, savings and financial security of Canadians and ensure that Canada emerges from this time of global turmoil stronger than ever before."
Harper seemed intent on imparting the notion of a strong team after the opposition painted the last cabinet as a largely hapless bunch muzzled by the prime minister.
Among the major players, Lawrence Cannon is promoted to Foreign Affairs, Jim Prentice moves to Environment, Peter MacKay remains at Defence, and Rob Nicholson stays at Justice.
But the new lineup failed to impress the Liberals.
"Canada is facing significant challenges in this period of international economic turmoil, yet Mr. Harper is playing the same old song," said Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale.
"It will be difficult for Mr. Harper's cabinet members to establish themselves as competent economic managers unless they correct the fiscal irresponsibility that brought our economy to the brink of deficit in the first place."
Liberal MP John McCallum, a former chief economist for the Royal Bank of Canada, slammed Harper for keeping Flaherty at Finance.
"Canadians want a finance minister who will outline a clear plan to help them protect their savings, their pensions and jobs," he said.
"Mr. Flaherty's record proves he is not the man that should be managing Canada's finances in a time of economic crisis."
McCallum noted that Canada has gone from a $12-billion surplus under the Liberals to the brink of deficit in less than three years.
The Tory government will kick off the new session of Parliament with a throne speech on Nov. 19.
Among other notable cabinet posts:
-Embattled Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz hangs on to his job.
-Gary Lunn is demoted from Natural Resources to minister of state for sport.
-Gordon O'Connor drops from Revenue to minister of state and chief government whip.
-Jason Kenney is promoted to Immigration.
-Stockwell Day moves to International Trade from Public Safety.
-Peter Van Loan takes over at Public Safety.
-Rona Ambrose moves to Labour from Intergovernmental Affairs.
-Josee Verner moves to Intergovernmental Affairs from Heritage.
-James Moore takes over at Heritage.
-Diane Finley moves to Human Resources from Immigration.
-Jay Hill becomes government House leader.
-Bev Oda holds on to International Co-operation.
-Chuck Strahl stays at Indian Affairs.
-Vic Toews remains as president of Treasury Board.
-Rookie Toronto MP and veteran broadcaster Peter Kent becomes minister of state of foreign affairs (Americas.)