With a new season of national politics now in full swing, let me offer three rankings of some federal politicians — Liberal leadership aspirants, Conservative ministers, and opposition MPs of note.

First, the expected Liberal contenders, ranked by the odds I would set for them, from the favourite to the longest-shot:

1. Michael Ignatieff (Odds 4:1) — An exceptional mind and lots of poise;
2. John Godfrey (6:1) — Informed, reform-minded, cities-centred;
3. Gerard Kennedy (8:1) — Young loaded with drive and talent;
4. Joe Volpe (8:1) — Will have big, hard-won gang of delegates;
5. Ken Dryden (10:1) — Has to put over national child care as his mission;
6. Denis Coderre (15:1) — He’s really staking out a future run;
7. Scott Brison (15:1) — Clever chap, but his income-trust e-mails blew away shorter odds;
8. Bob Rae (25:1) — The “worst Ontario premier” tag is a killer;
9. Stephane Dion (30:1) — Honest, rational, maddening in English;
10. Carolyn Bennett (100:1) — Likeable, kind-hearted, caring;
11. Maurice Bevilacqua (100:1) — Deserves better but no flare!

Now to the Conservative ministers. First, those most vulnerable to attacks in the House are: David Emerson (Trade), given his startling switch from the Liberals and his too-thin skin; Peter MacKay (Foreign Affairs), with his penchant for fuzzy talk and giving one man’s opinion on party positions; Stockwell Day (Security), deserving resurrection for good behaviour but still self-righteous; Vic Toews (Justice), also most righteous and a logic-splitter; and Gordon O’Connor (Defence), whose mastery of defence “history” reminds one he was a lobbyist for years after being a tank force leader.

The ones least vulnerable, and in time unlikely to be regularly taunted by the opposition are: Stephen Harper, a PM who can (like Pierre Trudeau) take care of himself; Monte Solberg (Immigration), well-liked for his kindly wit and sharp insights; Bev Oda (Culture), tough, stubborn, blunt, and honest; Jim Flaherty (Finance), who will walk on water for a few years because of his coterie of approving, business stakeholders; Tony Clement (Health), confident and very familiar with the field; Chuck Strahl (Agriculture), whose folksy directness is reminiscent of the farmers’ famous champion, Gene Whelan; Diane Finley (Human Resources), whose patient aplomb will help her handle harrying about child care; John Baird (Treasury Board), who is astute, aggressive, with a huge familiarity with Ottawa; and Lawrence Cannon (Transport), whose presence and acute awareness of what’s going on remind me of Marc Lalonde, Trudeau’s former lieutenant.

In sum, this cabinet is not trouble-proof, but still stronger than any we have had in years.

Finally, here are some Opposition MPs to watch:

Liberals: Bill Graham, the spirited and shrewd leader; Derek Lee, a veteran Scarborough MP and arguably the most savvy of all about federal politics; Mauril Belanger (Ottawa-Vanier); John McKay, another Scarborough MP and one of the few consistently thoughtful debaters in the House; Dan McTeague, another Scarborough MP, who is good on his feet and a broker between parties; Bonnie Brown (Oakville), as able an MP as one can find; Ralph Goodale, ex-finance minister and Irwin Cotler, ex-justice minister, both motormouths who in opposition could become stars; and Ignatieff, the next Liberal saviour — if he soon realizes he’ll make more impact through talk in the House than by chasing the leadership from one coffee klatch to the next.

Bloc Quebecois: Gilles Duceppe manages his flock superbly. He has good backing, particularly from Michel Gauthier, Yvan Loubier, Real Menard, Monique Guay, and Paul Crete.

NDP: Several MPs have the makings of Hill stars, in particular Charlie Angus from Timmins, Yvon Godin from Acadie-Bathurst, Peter Stoffer of Sackville-Eastern Shore, and Brian Masse (Windsor West). While Jack Layton continually over-praises his own and his caucus’s performances, he has had some fine backing from veterans Bill Blaikie (now deputy speaker), Judy Wasylycia-Leis, and Libby Davies — and he has half a dozen new female MPs, several of whom are tagged as comers, not least his wife, Olivia Chow.

In summary, three caucuses are rather well-fixed for House work. The fourth — the Liberals — are lighter than many think.