Prime Minister Trudeau shuffled his Cabinet for the second time in 2019 today, in large part to fill the Veterans Affairs post on a full-time basis, after the resignation of the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould from Cabinet left that portfolio vacant.
The shuffle involved only current Ministers, with no backbenchers joining Cabinet. Ministers assuming new roles today are:
- The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, appointed as Minister of Veterans Affairs;
- The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, appointed as Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food; and
- The Honourable Maryam Monsef, appointed as Minister of International Development (in addition to keeping her Status of Women portfolio).
This small Cabinet shuffle comes after two tumultuous weeks for the Government, which saw Prime Minister Trudeau and his staff accused of inappropriate conduct regarding their handling of the prosecution for fraud and corruption of Quebec-based engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin. The issue has left the Liberal government and the Trudeau brand at their most vulnerable point since coming to power.
While the shuffle today will do nothing to mitigate those circumstances, Mr. Trudeau and his team will hope that the changes to Cabinet bolster the Government with some key constituencies heading into Election 2019. As the new Minister of Agriculture, Mrs. Bibeau was given control of a very important portfolio in her home province of Quebec – which is certain to be a battleground during the fall campaign. Meanwhile, the appointment of Minister MacAulay, a highly-respected and long-serving Parliamentarian, to the Veterans Affairs portfolio is an attempt to stabilize that file, which has seen four Ministers in less than four years under the Liberal government. The file suffers from a growing perception that veterans were ill-served during that carousel of Ministers, and Mr. MacAulay will be tasked as the steadying hands to rectify that situation. Finally, the appointment of Minister Monsef to an additional portfolio grants her a more senior position, at a time when the number of women in Cabinet is reduced due to the resignation of Mrs. Wilson-Raybould.
The Cabinet shuffle could trigger associated changes to the ranks of Parliamentary Secretaries. Earlier this week, Pam Damoff (Oakville North – Burlington) replaced John Oliver (Oakville) as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, in a one-off change to that position.
What Comes Next
After today’s sitting, Parliament will be recessed for two weeks, returning on March 18. The Government will then table Budget 2019 on Tuesday, March 19. For stakeholders and governments, the annual budget is always a key public policy event. This year, the Budget and associated messaging is nothing less than crucial for the Trudeau government. The Budget is the biggest opportunity from now until Election 2019 for the Liberal Party to change the dominant political narrative from the SNC-Lavalin issue to something positive for the Government.
Furthermore, a significant element of the Liberal Party’s planned Election 2019 narrative is the strength of Canada’s economy and job market. That narrative was struck a blow this morning when Statistics Canada broke the news that Canada’s economy grew by only 0.1% in the fourth quarter of 2018. Ultimately, the SNC-Lavalin story and the Statistics Canada economic numbers combine to strike at the heart of the Liberal Government’s economic messaging.
Budget 2019 is the most high-profile tool at the Government’s disposal to shore up its economic credentials and bolster consumer and business confidence in the economy heading into the fall campaign. The next month promises to be a critical one for the Government. Stakeholders should monitor the political dynamic closely as we head into budget season.