Prime Minister Stephen Harper will set the team that will see his government through to the next election with a cabinet shuffle that is expected any day now.

While a shuffle means more to Ottawa insiders than to the average Canadian, the moves can signal shifts in the government’s focus or its intention to reach out to a certain demographic, such as women or young voters.

A number of veteran Conservatives have announced in recent weeks that they are either stepping down from their posts or do not intend to seek re-election in 2015, having been asked by the prime minister to declare their intentions as he decides to whom to assign key responsibilities.

  • Minister of State for Finance Ted Menzies and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Diane Ablonczy have both said they will not run in the next election.
  • Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield stepped down for health reasons.
  • Public Safety Minister Vic Toews resignedfrom public life, and Sen. Marjory LeBreton stepped down from her role as government leader in the Upper Chamber.
  • Environment Minister Peter Kent posted an intriguing message to his Facebook page, saying he would “enthusiastically embrace” a move to the backbench if that is where he finds himself, though he intends to run for re-election.

The moves give the prime minister an opportunity to put a fresh face on his cabinet mid-way to the next election, including mixing in some rising stars with veteran ministers, according to CTV political commentator Scott Reid, former adviser to prime minister Paul Martin.

“There’s a million things that go into the calculation of a cabinet shuffle and you hear folks talking about them all the time,” he told CTV News Channel. “Region, gender, all that kind of stuff.”

But with polls showing that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has strong support among young, female voters, Harper will also be looking to add women and younger MPs in his caucus “to give a sense that there’s a renewed step in the stride,” Reid said.

Among the contenders for a plum cabinet post are:

  • Michelle Rempel: The MP for Calgary-Centre, first elected in 2011, is one of the fast-rising stars of the Conservative caucus. As parliamentary secretary to the environment minister, the 33-year-old has been Harper’s go-to spokesperson to tout the government’s efforts on the file.
  • Chris Alexander: Also first elected in 2011, Alexander, 44, spent nearly 20 years in the foreign service, and was Canada’s first resident ambassador to Afghanistan. The MP for Ajax-Pickering is parliamentary secretary to the minister of defence, and has been the government’s mouthpiece for military matters.
  • Dr. Kellie Leitch: Leitch is the first-term MP for the Ontario riding of Simcoe-Grey, and is parliamentary secretary for both human resources and labour. An accomplished paediatric orthopaedic surgeon, the 42-year-old volunteers at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario to keep up her surgical skills.
  • Shelly Glover: Glover is on her second term as MP for the Manitoba riding of Saint Boniface, having taken leave from her patrol sergeant job with the Winnipeg Police Service. She is parliamentary secretary to the finance minister, and is also a regular on the political talk shows.
  • Candice Bergen: Another second-term Manitoba MP, Bergen has served as parliamentary secretary to the public safety minister since 2011. Her private member’s bill to kill the long-gun registry was defeated in 2010, but the Conservatives passed legislation to scrap the registry upon winning a majority.
  • Rob Moore: Moore may be young in age but he’s a caucus veteran who was first elected in the New Brunswick riding of Fundy-Royal in 2004. The 39-year-old previously served in cabinet but was bumped in 2011, and could return to add an East Coast representative.

While the list of potential newcomers is full of strong performers, don’t expect to see them in the highest-profile posts, Reid says.

“They’re not senior and they haven’t been given a lot of responsibility in the past, so you don’t dump them info foreign affairs, you don’t dump them into finance because frankly you want to bring people along and nurture them and give them a chance to develop their talents,” he says.

In that case, expect veterans such as Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Heritage Minister James Moore to remain in cabinet but take on new roles.

However the next cabinet takes shape, Reid says, what’s important to consider is the context in which it is occurring. A recent Ipsos Reid poll for CTV News found the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP all within five points of each other, making it a tight race two years out from the next election. Two other Ipsos Reid/CTV News polls have found that the ongoing Senate expenses scandal appears to be damaging the Conservative brand, with 70 per cent of Canadians saying they “disapprove” of Harper’s handling of the crisis.

“The context is, how’s the government doing? Well, if we take a look at the opinion polls, not great,” Reid said. “So now everybody’s saying they need this shuffle, it’s not just something they want to do, they need it for a reboot.”