Manitoba MP Dan Vandal gains seat in cabinet, Jim Carr named special adviser

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has named two Manitoba MPs to his inner circle — one as a cabinet minister and the other as a special adviser.

Carr's portfolio created to rebuild relations in Western Canada

Dan Vandal, left, and Jim Carr have significant roles in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's minority government. (CBC; John Woods/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has named two Manitoba MPs to his inner circle — one as a cabinet minister and the other as a special adviser.

Dan Vandal, who represents Saint Boniface-Saint Vital, is among the 36 members of the Liberal cabinet announced Wednesday. The rookie cabinet member, who was first elected to Parliament in 2015, is now the minister of northern affairs.

Jim Carr, who represents the riding of Winnipeg South Centre, served in cabinet as minister of international trade diversification before being re-elected on Oct. 21. He was minister of natural resources from 2015 to 2018.

This time, his position is a new one outside of cabinet, created to rebuild relations in Western Canada: He will serve as Trudeau's special representative for the Prairies.

The prime minister's minority government is putting extra attention on the West after the party was shut out of seats in Alberta and Saskatchewan in last month's election.

Two of Trudeau's top cabinet ministers, Saskatchewan's Ralph Goodale and Alberta's Amarjeet Sohi, lost their seats as Conservatives swept Saskatchewan and took every riding except one in Alberta, as well as much of Manitoba and B.C.

'Strong voice for the West'

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Vandal said he hopes to focus on issues that impact northern Manitoba, including climate change.

"I'm a proud Winnipegger and a proud Manitoban first. I've been in politics for 20 years. I've represented the city, and I want to be a strong voice for the West," Vandal said.

Jim Carr said his new position is the "right balance" for him. The MP recently announced he has been diagnosed with cancer.

"In this new job, I will be the PM's eyes and ears in the West and be a strong voice for Western Canada," Carr wrote in an email to CBC News.

"Many western Canadians are feeling frustrated. I will work with them, listen to them and advocate for a strong west in a united Canada," he wrote.

In the wake of the clear political divide between western and eastern Canada in the federal election, Wexit — or "western exit" — quickly began trending on social media. 

Elections Canada confirmed it also received an application from a group hoping to register a separatist party, called Wexit Canada.

At a rally in Calgary on Saturday, the leader of the prospective party, Peter Downing, said he plans to run candidates federally and provincially in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Pipelines and flood protection: Pallister

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said the federal government's actions, rather than its cabinet appointments, will determine how effective Trudeau's Liberals are at addressing western alienation.

"Rather than appointments, I'd like to see action on things like building pipelines and building flood protection," Pallister told reporters Wednesday.

"When we see that real progress, that will go a long way to addressing some of the concerns of my colleagues to the west, and I think to the east as well."

Premier Brian Pallister says the previous federal cabinet did not have regional ministers, which made it difficult for Prairie issues to be addressed. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

He said the Prairies felt the impact of Trudeau's decision not to appoint regional ministers in his federal cabinet during his first term.

"We didn't have a counterpart to go to as a conduit, to get through on some of the significant issues," Pallister said.