Trudeau tweaks cabinet committees ahead of 'busy fall'
Defence procurement and U.S. relations committees moved from ad hoc to full committee status
Ahead of what he said would be a "busy fall," and facing great expectations, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau concluded two days of meetings with his ministers with resolute words and changes to his cabinet's internal operations.
The cabinet retreat in Sudbury, Ont., was an opportunity, Trudeau said, to take stock and reflect, but also a "reminder that there is still more hard work ahead of us than there is behind us," repeating a mantra he offered in the spring.
"We're looking forward to the hard work that lies ahead," he said.
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At the conclusion of Monday's meetings, Trudeau announced changes to a ministerial portfolio and to the committees that manage the business of the federal cabinet.
Jean-Yves Duclos, the economist who became minister of families, children and social development last fall, has been given new responsibilities to help Trudeau's government meet campaign commitments on employment insurance and skills training in a "rebalancing" of mandates between Duclos and Maryann Mihychuk, the employment minister.
Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, whose duties as House leader were reassigned on Friday to Small Business and Tourism Minister Bardish Chagger, has been named chair of a new cabinet committee on litigation management to advise the justice minister on the implications of lawsuits facing the government.
Defence procurement and Canada-U.S. relations, previously the purview of ad hoc and subcommittees, have been elevated to full committees.
And in a change not mentioned in the accompanying news release from the Prime Minster's Office, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly and Science Minister Kirsty Duncan have been named chair and vice-chair, respectively, of the committee on environment, climate change and energy, replacing Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion and International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Gord Downie's endorsement
Prior to the meetings in Sudbury, Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie, during the band's historic concert in Kingston Saturday night, offered his endorsement of Trudeau's ability to correct the relationship between Canada's Indigenous peoples and the rest of the country.
On Monday, Trudeau said Downie's vote of confidence was "extremely touching," but was echoed in the desire of Canadians to move forward and improve the situation.
"I've talked to Gord Downie a few times in the past, particularly in recent years, and I can tell you he's always been a man who had tremendous passion for such issues as social justice, Canadians and the challenges facing indigenous Canadians," Trudeau said in French.
"So I can tell you, yes, it does put pressure on me when a friend like Gord says that he expects a lot from me and from my government."
In his opening remarks on Monday, Trudeau said reconciliation with Indigenous peoples would be a "long" and "complex" process and would require the federal government to be open and transparent, acknowledging mistakes and learning from them.
"Know this: our government will not rest until we make life better for Indigenous people right across this country," he said.
Trudeau addresses minister's expenses
Shortly before this week's meetings, Trudeau's government was also faced with controversy over Health Minister Jane Philpott's travel expenses.
Trudeau was asked if he made a point of reminding his cabinet ministers about being frugal with public money after it emerged that taxpayers paid more than $3,700 for a car service to transport Philpott between events on two different occasions in a luxury sedan.
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Trudeau said that the incident was a mistake, and when a mistake is made he expects his ministers to acknowledge it apologize for it, make amends and make sure it does not happen again.
"This situation was a reminder for all of us to be extremely careful about our expenses and about the public trust that we wield," he said.
Philpott apologized again Sunday for the "inappropriate" expenses and said she'd repay a portion of the money.
Trudeau on his way to China
Before the House of Commons resumes this fall, the prime minister will visit China for an official visit and a meeting of the G20.
Asked about the trip on Monday, Trudeau said he hopes to reset Canada's relationship with the global and economic power.
"Canada has a long and storied history of a constructive relationship with China that goes back decades upon decades. Over the past government's mandate, unfortunately, relationships with China were somewhat inconstant. They went from hot to cold depending on the issue, depending on the day, it seemed," he said.
"What we want to do is set a very clear and constructive relationship with China that, yes, looks at the potential economic benefits of better trade relationships while at the same time ensuring that our voice is heard clearly on issues of human rights, of labour rights, of democracy, of environmental stewardship. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done to set this relationship on the right path for the coming years, and that's exactly what we are focused on doing in this first trip to China."