Trudeau urged to give Freeland domestic portfolio, name her deputy PM

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is being urged to move Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland into a new portfolio and give her additional powers by naming her deputy prime minister, according sources with knowledge of the talks.

Liberal minority government will unveil its new cabinet next Wednesday

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is being advised to leverage Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland's star power and place her in a role that will focus on domestic concerns. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is being urged to move Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland into a new portfolio and give her additional powers by naming her deputy prime minister.

The idea has been discussed behind closed doors, according to a source with direct knowledge of the talks.

However, sources close to Freeland say she enjoys her role as foreign affairs minister, and that moving her out of the job could come with challenges.

Trudeau will unveil his new cabinet next Wednesday, with the source saying Canadians should expect some big changes.

The Prime Minister's Office has also tapped Privy Council clerk Ian Shugart to examine whether additional portfolios should be created, according to two senior sources. Shugart is also said to be looking at whether current ministries need to be altered to make government more effective.

Trudeau is being advised to leverage Freeland's star power and place her in a role that will focus on domestic concerns.

One option that has been discussed is naming her minister of intergovernmental affairs, making the restoration of national unity a focus of her mandate.

To ensure her removal from global affairs is not seen as a demotion, one source says Freeland could also be named deputy prime minister on top of any new role she is given.

Trudeau faces several significant challenges in picking his new cabinet, given that the Liberals were shut out of both Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Western alienation an issue

Western alienation and frustration is an issue the prime minister's office has identified as one that needs to be addressed. While Freeland represents a posh riding in the heart of Toronto, she was born in Alberta and is the daughter of a canola farmer.

"I represent University-Rosedale, but I am originally a proud Albertan," Freeland said shortly after the Oct. 21 election at the opening of a Ukrainian policy convention in Ottawa.

While close to the finish line, the new NAFTA agreement has not yet been ratified — which has been Freeland's priority as Foreign Affairs Minister.

Ottawa is also stuck in a tense standoff with Beijing, as diplomatic tensions between both countries soured over Canada's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

'A huge amount of complexity'

A minority government requires more careful co-ordination in the House of Commons. Michele Cadario, who served in senior roles with former prime minister Paul Martin, told CBC Radio's The House that Trudeau will have to pick a handful of ministries to be the priority for this second mandate. 

Cadario and former Chrétien strategist David Zussman agreed gender parity is a must for this government, given the standard set in 2015. 

The question of how to represent regions with no elected Liberals is also a complication when naming a cabinet. 

Zussman said if a minister can't be named from the region, one way to ensure that perspective is still at the table is to appoint people from Alberta and Saskatchewan to top positions in the Prime Minister's Office and the ministries. 

Trudeau could expand cabinet to include more positions, but Zussman noted there is a "huge amount of complexity around restructuring," including high costs. 

Both said appointing the right House leader will help ensure the survival of a Liberal government when navigating confidence votes. 

"I think you're looking at an individual who can obviously work with the opposition parties and form a trusting relationship," said Zussman.

Cadario said Trudeau will be looking for someone who is a good communicator, fluently bilingual, and experienced in the House of Commons. Cadario also says a person from a riding relatively close to Ottawa may also be key.

"You're spending a lot of time in the House of Commons, there's some practical issues with having someone from British Columbia," she said.

Asked to suggest who might be up for the job, Cadario named several MPs including Steve MacKinnon, Greg Fergus, and David McGuinty.


Katie Simpson is a foreign correspondent with CBC News based in Washington. Prior to joining the team in D.C. she spent six years covering Parliament Hill in Ottawa and nearly a decade covering local and provincial issues in Toronto.

With files from Chris Hall and Elise Von Scheel


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