Federal Cabinet Shuffle

The Top Line: Cabinet Reboot

Earlier today Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled the Federal Cabinet.  The shuffle signals a significant adjustment by the Trudeau team to a changing Federal-Provincial dynamic and a response to headwinds that the Government is facing on some key files, notably trade, the environment and infrastructure.  The shuffle was also conducted with an eye on Election 2019, with five new Ministers drawn from B.C., Quebec, and the GTA – three regions that will be crucial battlegrounds.

After taking power in 2015, the Liberals enjoyed close relationships with then-President Barack Obama and with the Liberal governments that were then in place in almost every province.  Now, President Trump has upended Canada’s trade agenda and the Trudeau Government faces oppositional governments in B.C. (NDP) and Ontario (Progressive Conservative), with the strong possibility that Alberta and Quebec will follow.

In that light, the following appointments from today’s shuffle are the most important changes to the Government’s front bench:

  • Dominic LeBlanc, long a trusted advisor to the Prime Minister, was given a new portfolio as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Northern Affairs and Internal Trade.  Minister Leblanc will be relied upon to help the Federal Government navigate relationships with the growing number of provinces that are of a different political stripe.
  • Amarjeet Sohi was appointed Minister of Natural Resources – which includes responsibility for the contentious Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion.  This appointment reflects how important energy issues are in Alberta, and how key success on the file is to Mr. Sohi’s personal hopes of being one of the few Liberals elected in Alberta in 2019.
  • Bill Blair was appointed Minister for Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, where he will lend his status as former Toronto Chief of Police to toughening the Liberal Party’s credentials on migration and crime – two political hot potatoes at this time.
  • François-Philippe Champagne was appointed Minister of Infrastructure and Communities.  As Minister of International Trade, Mr. Champagne was viewed as an effective champion for “Brand Canada.”  He will now bring that enthusiastic management style to getting “shovels in the ground” on infrastructure projects.  As a key element of the Liberal brand, touting successes on infrastructure construction will be a cornerstone of the Liberal Election strategy in 2019.  However, as of now, progress on construction has been slower than the Party would like.

Notably, and in keeping with a Government that is looking to have strong voices on contentious issues, neither of the Ministers most responsible for the NAFTA file were shuffled – Bill Morneau will continue as Minister of Finance and Chrystia Freeland will stay on as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

New Roles and Faces

In addition to the aforementioned changes, several incumbent Ministers were given new roles or saw their responsibilities tweaked. The full list of those changes is:

  • Carolyn Bennett: Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations (losing the Northern Affairs portion of her file);
  • Marie-Claude Bibeau: Minister of International Development (with the La Francophonie responsibilities moving to Minister Joly’s new portfolio);
  • Scott Brison: President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government (adding a specific mandate for digital government);
  • Jim Carr: Minister of International Trade Diversification (having previously been Minister of Natural Resources);
  • Kirsty Duncan: Minister of Science and Sport (remaining the only member of Cabinet to hold two Ministerial posts, though responsibility for the accessibility file was shifted to Carla Qualtrough);
  • Mélanie Joly: Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie (formerly Minister of Heritage);
  • Carla Qualtrough: Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility (adding the accessibility file).

Notably, Minister Carr will take over the significantly renamed International Trade Diversification file, where he will lead the effort to build Canada’s global trade relationships in a world where the U.S. is an increasingly unreliable partner.

In addition to Bill Blair, there are four other new Cabinet Ministers.  By appointing fresh faces from several British Columbia, Quebec, and GTA ridings, the Liberals will hope to leverage the higher profiles of the following individuals in Election 2019:

  • Mary Ng: Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion;
  • Pablo Rodríguez: Minister of Heritage and Multiculturalism;
  • Filomena Tassi: Minister of Seniors; and
  • Johnathan Wilkinson: Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Please see the Appendix for profiles of those new Ministers.

What Comes Next

Given the summer timing of the shuffle and the fact that several Ministers are currently on cross-Canada or international trips, the new Cabinet will not meet immediately.  Additionally, mandate letters for the new Ministers will not be published until late summer.  The planned Cabinet retreat in Saskatoon in late-August will be the first full gathering of the new front bench team.

Ministers have the summer to become familiar with their new files, meet with public service officials, receive briefings, and reach out to stakeholders.  With an election season and a key session of Parliament looming, it is likely that existing Ministerial staff teams will remain relatively unchanged.  However, the new Ministers will have to staff up their offices.

The Cabinet shuffle necessitates a Parliamentary Secretary shuffle and the appointment of a new Government Whip and Deputy Whip.  Changes will also have to be made to the membership of Cabinet Committees and eventually to the House of Commons Committees.  Stakeholders can expect those changes to be carried out before the return of Parliament in mid-September.

In the longer term, the new 35-member Cabinet is the team that the Liberals will lean on to lead the Party to a repeat majority government next year.  Stakeholders can expect these Ministers to be called upon to make key policy announcements in the coming year and, eventually, to campaign with candidates in closely-contested ridings in 2019.

Appendix – Profiles of New Ministers

Bill Blair, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction

Elected as MP for Scarborough Southwest in 2015, many people expected Blair to be in Cabinet from the start of the Trudeau mandate.  Instead, he was tasked with leading the cannabis legalization file as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice.  Now, the former Toronto Chief of Police will be the Federal Government’s voice on two high-profile political issues in the GTA – organized crime violence and migration from the U.S.

Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion

Only recently elected as MP for Markham-Thornhill in an April 2017 by-election, Ng previously had a long career as a Liberal Party staffer at the Ontario and Federal levels.  As an immigrant from Hong Kong, she will bring increased diversity to Cabinet, and her appointment reflects that securing the support of the Chinese-Canadian community in the 905 region of the GTA will be key for the Liberals in 2019.

Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Heritage and Multiculturalism

Elected as MP for Honoré-Mercier in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2015, Rodriguez has been the Government Whip since 2017 and previously served as the Liberal Quebec Caucus Chair for several years.  Installing Rodriguez as Minister of Heritage reflects the special importance of that file in Quebec and gives Cabinet an experienced Quebecois voice ahead of an election in which making gains in Quebec could be the key to another majority mandate for the Liberals.

Filomena Tassi, Minister of Seniors

Elected in 2015 as MP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, Tassi is promoted from her former role as Deputy Government Whip.  Her Cabinet seat gives the Liberals a Minister from Hamilton, a city that has a history of producing influential Ministers and that will be a battleground in 2019.  Seniors are a key voting block and the Seniors Ministerial post has long existed in past Cabinets, though it was absent in Trudeau’s first front bench team.

Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard

Elected as MP for North Vancouver in 2015, Wilkinson’s appointment as Fisheries Minister will see the responsibility for that file switch from the East to the West Coast.  His appointment gives Cabinet another voice from metro Vancouver, where many incumbent Liberal MPs will face challenging Election 2019 races.