Trudeau cabinet shuffle brings new faces, several changes for run-up to 2019 campaign
Toronto-area MPs Mary Ng and Bill Blair and B.C.'s Jonathan Wilkinson among those added in shakeup
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made significant changes to his cabinet, bringing five new ministers to the table and creating new portfolios for seniors, intergovernmental affairs and border security.
The retooled cabinet signals the government's intent to ease trade dependence on the U.S., address concerns about border control, and bolster political forces in key regions in the run-up to next year's federal election.
In one surprise move, Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief who has been the government's point man on the marijuana legalization file, was appointed minister of border security and organized crime reduction. He will also be in charge of managing the hot-button issue of irregular migration with asylum seekers crossing into Canada from the U.S.
Other new ministers added to the cabinet today:
- Mary Ng, a former staffer in Trudeau's office who was recently elected in a Markham-Thornhill byelection, becomes minister for small business and export promotion.
- Filomena Tassi, a Hamilton MP, becomes minister for seniors.
- Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson becomes minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.
- Pablo Rodriguez, who was serving as chief government whip, becomes minister of heritage and multiculturalism.
Ministers with new or changed duties:
- Dominic LeBlanc moves from Fisheries and Oceans to Intergovernmental Affairs, Northern Affairs and Internal Trade.
- Amarjeet Sohi moves from Infrastructure to Natural Resources.
- Carla Qualtrough, remains minister of public services and procurement and gets the added portfolio of Accessibility.
- Jim Carr moves from Natural Resources to International Trade Diversification.
- Mélanie Joly goes from Heritage to minister of tourism, official languages and la francophonie.
- François-Philippe Champagne moves from International Trade to Infrastructure and Communities.
- Treasury Board President Scott Brison also becomes minister of digital government.
- Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett has "northern affairs" dropped from her title.
- Government House Leader Bardish Chagger is no longer in charge of tourism and small business.
In a news conference after the swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall, Trudeau said the focus on innovation and trade is a response, in part, to the constantly changing international context.
"There is certainly a level of clarity for Canadians, for businesses, for everyone across this country that we need to diversify our markets. We need to ensure that we are not as dependent on the United States," he said.
Calling it a "desperate attempt" to hit the reset button before the next election, Deputy Conservative Leader Lisa Raitt said the shuffle is an acknowledgement that the government has failed to deliver results on trade, pipelines and infrastructure.
"It's the last-ditch attempt to finish that homework at the last minute, to try and get the approval when they go to the election next time," she said.
Canadians will judge
"I don't think it's going to make one whit of difference. Canadians are going to judge upon what is being delivered."
LeBlanc's new job will be to smooth the waters in a changing domestic political landscape with a new premier in Ontario, elections on the horizon in New Brunswick, Quebec and Alberta, and simmering disputes over pipelines, carbon taxes and interprovincial trade.
With several issues of potential tension with new Ontario Premier Doug Ford, LeBlanc said the federal and provincial governments share a common interest in strengthening the economy and creating more jobs.
"There'll be a lot more, I think, that we have in common than we may disagree on, and my job will be to work with all of these leaders in a way that advances the interests of Canadians," he said.
The cabinet shakeup boosts the number of ministers from Ontario and Quebec, where the Liberals need to win more seats in the next election to offset potential losses elsewhere.
Blair's new portfolio comes after a heated exchange between Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Ontario's new provincial minister in charge of the file, Lisa MacLeod.
Today, MacLeod welcomed Blair to the post in a tweet, offering her congratulations and asking to meet soon.
I enjoyed a productive chat with Bill on Sunday during our flight from Ottawa to Toronto and was pleased to drive him home. I’ve already reached out today to offer my congratulations and I look forward to meeting with him soon. <a href="https://t.co/rABFAKYwxr">https://t.co/rABFAKYwxr</a>—@MacLeodLisa
Blair's promotion and new file is designed to reassure the Americans, while also easing anxieties at home.
In a news conference, Trudeau said the new portfolio will help reassure Quebecers and all Canadians that the rules around the border will be followed "to the letter." The new role will also help counter the Conservative fearmongering around asylum seekers, he said.
"When conservatives across the country are playing the fear card, we need strong, reassuring voices to counter that and to demonstrate that the safety and security of Canadians in their communities is something that we will never flinch on, that we will continue to deliver and we will deliver in a way that pulls Canadians together instead of dividing them, like the Conservatives tend to be doing," he said.
Raitt said the appointment of a third minister to deal with the border issue is proof the government is failing on the file, and said Trudeau is trying to deflect by engaging in a "war of words."
"If the prime minister wants to characterize it in some kind of battle of semantics, that's going to be his desire to do so," she said. "I'm not going to engage on that level with him. What I ask of him is a plan and a way to fix the problem that we have currently, to give everybody assurances that our system is fair and it works."
Putting best players on pitch
The timing of today's shuffle gives Trudeau an opportunity to put his best players on the pitch before the campaign, said David Moscrop, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University. With no significant scandals or major blunders raging, it makes sense for the prime minister to keep key ministers in place while lightly demoting underperformers and promoting up-and-comers.
Trudeau did not shuffle any of his top ministers in key files, including Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
By expanding the cabinet, Trudeau's selection of new ministers could help give credibility and prominence to key issues and MPs in critical regions ahead of the October 2019 race, he said.
"Strategically speaking, as a government ahead of an election, I can't see any downside unless somebody screws up. I suppose there's always a risk that someone's going to disgrace themselves," he said.
Timed with election
University of Toronto political scientist Nelson Wiseman said the shuffle is timed to gear up for next year's campaign.
"It's not uncommon for governments to do this at this point, because if they start shuffling too close to an election day, the closer it gets, the more they get exposed to the charge they're admitting things aren't going well," he said. "You're really now desperate, you're splashing the paint around too loosely."
It has become common practice for an incoming government to shrink the size of cabinet to project an image of saving money and controlling bureaucracy, Wiseman said, then to expand it closer to an election for political advantage.
Before today's shuffle there were 30 members of cabinet, including Trudeau, evenly split by gender. The new cabinet has 35 members including Trudeau, with 17 women and 18 men.
Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper appointed 26 members to his first cabinet in 2006. By the time his government lost power in 2015, there were 39 ministers.
Trudeau's first major cabinet shakeup was on Jan. 10, 2017, when he appointed Freeland to Foreign Affairs as part of a strategy to bolster the front-line ministers who deal with the Trump administration. As part of that overhaul, veteran ministers John McCallum and Stéphane Dion were left out of the circle and instead offered diplomatic posts.