Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has moved key ministers and welcomed new faces to cabinet to help navigate a minority government amid growing strife in two Prairie provinces.
Weeks after an election that saw his Liberals lose their majority and find themselves shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan — where the so-called “Wexit” movement is stoking separatist sentiment — Trudeau unveiled a 36-person, gender-balanced cabinet, up from 34.
Winnipeg South Centre MP Jim Carr, a respected former minister now battling cancer, will not sit at the cabinet table but will instead serve as Trudeau’s “special representative” for the Prairie provinces.
“I’m very excited today to be able to get down to work in the way Canadians asked us to in the last election,” Trudeau told reporters outside of Rideau Hall Wednesday. “To pull together the country, to focus on issues of economic growth for the middle class, to fight climate change, and to keep Canadians and their communities safe.”
Though some top players are staying in the same roles they’ve held since 2015, including Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, the prime minister freshened up his team with other big moves.
Here are some key highlights.
Chrystia Freeland goes from foreign to domestic diplomacy
Chrystia Freeland, the prominent MP for Toronto’s University-Rosedale, continues to build a reputation as the PM’s problem-solver. In 2015, Freeland was named international trade minister to seal the deal on a free trade pact with the European Union. In 2017, she was promoted to foreign affairs minister to confront the realities of a Donald Trump presidency and run point on negotiations for the new NAFTA.
On Wednesday, Freeland was tapped to serve as intergovernmental affairs minister and deputy prime minister. As intergovernmental affairs minister, Freeland will be expected to help ease tensions with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
Though she represents a riding in downtown Toronto, Freeland was born in Peace River, Alberta. She referenced those Western roots in a speech earlier this month, telling a Ukrainian Canadian Congress convention that she was “originally a proud Albertan.”
While the role of deputy PM has often been seen as symbolic and was scrapped by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, the title no doubt reflects her standing in Trudeau’s inner circle. It also helps stifle any suggestion that she has been demoted.
Freeland stressed the need for Canadians to unite, just as they did when Trump hit Canada with punishing steel and aluminum tariffs last year.
“I think what we need to do as a federal government when it comes to the West and when it comes to all our provincial relationships is... really listen hard,” she said.
François-Philippe Champagne, who previously served as infrastructure minister and, before that, minister of international trade diversification, replaces Freeland as foreign affairs minister.
The MP for Quebec’s Saint-Maurice-Champlain will now become Canada’s top diplomat, a job that will include pressing China for the release of detained Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.
But Freeland will keep responsibility for Canada’s relationship with the U.S., including the push for the ratification of the USMCA trade deal at a time when American lawmakers are consumed with the Trump impeachment inquiry.
The government has a new leader in the House
The role of Government House leader may not seem sexy at first blush but it’s critically important in a minority Parliament where the government needs votes from other parties to survive and pursue its agenda.
The gig involves negotiating with the House leaders of other parties to ensure the passage of legislation, particularly confidence measures, and setting in place strategies to move legislation through the Commons.
Veteran Quebec MP Pablo Rodriguez replaces Waterloo’s Bardish Chagger, who in 2016 became the first woman and first person of colour to hold the role.
Rodriguez was first elected in the riding of Honoré-Mercier in 2004, which means he experienced life under minority governments led by both Liberals and Conservatives. He was defeated in 2011 but returned to the Commons four years later. He served as heritage minister in the last Parliament, after a stint as the chief government whip.
Rodriguez will also serve as Trudeau’s Quebec lieutenant at a time when the separatist Bloc Quebecois will be the third largest party in the House.
He told reporters Wednesday that voters sent parties a clear message last month that they expect them to work together in the best interest of Canadians.
Chagger, meanwhile, will serve as minister of diversity and inclusion — a new role — and minister of youth, a position previously held by Trudeau.
A new point person on environment and climate change
Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna, who as environment minister defended both the Liberal carbon pricing system and the Trudeau government’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, is also taking on a new position.
McKenna will serve as minister of infrastructure and communities, which should still allow her to focus on issues related to her previous file of four years, such as flood mitigation.
Jonathan Wilkinson, who served as the minister of fisheries, oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard, will take over as minister of the environment and climate change. Bernadette Jordan, who represents Nova Scotia’s South Shore-St. Margaret and served as minister of rural economic development, becomes the new fisheries minister.
McKenna has been open about the vitriol she faced while serving as the government’s point person on fighting climate change. She told The Canadian Press during the election that the scale of abuse she experienced online and in-person sometimes culminated in her needing a security detail. Last month, a vile, four-letter slur was spray-painted on her campaign office.
While shuffling McKenna in the previous Parliament might have been seen as something of a climbdown amid anger from conservative leaders over carbon pricing, she now gets a fresh start in a role that should generate less heat.
Moving McKenna may also help satiate Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. The premier publicly suggested to The Globe and Mail weeks ago that Trudeau should find a new role for McKenna, alleging she is anti-pipeline.
Current ministers to fill shoes of 2 defeated colleagues
Trudeau also tried to plug the holes left by the defeats last month of former natural resources minister Amarjeet Sohi in Edmonton Mill Woods and former public safety minister Ralph Goodale in Regina-Wascana.
Seamus O’Regan, who represents Newfoundland’s St. John’s South–Mount Pearl, has been named the new natural resources minister. A close friend of the prime minister, O’Regan first cracked cabinet in 2017 when he was named veterans affairs minister. He would go on to clash with respected veterans activist now pursuing a libel suit against him.
O’Regan was tapped to serve as Indigenous services minister last year in a shuffle best remembered for the demotion of former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould.
Though not from the West, O’Regan represents an oil-producing province. He will be tasked with championing Canada’s resource industry and pushing for the completion of the contentious Trans Mountain expansion at a time of falling oil prices.
Bill Blair has been tapped to try to fill Goodale’s shoes at public safety. The former Toronto police chief and MP for Scarborough Southwest was a safe pick for the job, having worked closely with Goodale in his previous position as minister of border security and organized crime reduction.
7 newcomers crack Trudeau’s inner circle
Trudeau has also brought seven newcomers into the fold, including two rookie MPs.
Marc Miller, another close Trudeau confidante who represents the Montreal riding of Ville-Marie-Le Sud-Ouest-Île-des-Soeurs, replaces O’Regan as Indigenous services minister.
First elected in 2015, Miller had served as the parliamentary secretary to the minister of Crown-Indigenous relations. He quietly learned the Mohawk language, something he said was part of a “personal journey” to raise awareness of Indigenous languages and promote reconciliation. In 2017, he delivered a statement in the House entirely in Kanien’kéha.
Marco Mendicino, who represents Toronto’s Eglinton-Lawrence and served as a parliamentary secretary to ministers of justice and infrastructure, has been promoted to minister of immigration. He replaces Ahmed Hussen, who has been shuffled to become minister of families, children, and social development.
Other MPs elevated from the backbench to cabinet include: King-Vaughan MP Deb Schulte (minister of seniors), Saint Boniface-Saint Vital MP Dan Vandal (minister of northern affairs), and Ottawa-Vanier MP Mona Fortier (minister of middle class prosperity and associate minister of finance).
Rookie MP Steven Guilbeault, an environmentalist who helped found the advocacy group Equiterre in 1993 and spent 10 years working for Greenpeace, replaces Rodriguez as heritage minister. A star Liberal recruit, Guilbeault rolled to victory last month in Quebec’s Laurier-Sainte-Marie.
Though Guilbeault had been seen as possible environment minister, his appointment to such a role likely would have heightened tensions between the federal government and provincial governments in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Guilbeault opposes the Trans Mountain pipeline, but argued on the campaign trail that the Liberal government has done more to combat climate change than any other government.
Another rising star has also landed a cabinet spot straight away. Anita Anand, a University of Toronto law professor who was just elected in Oakville, will serve as minister of public services and procurement.
The prime minister also made some cuts. Ginette Petitpas Taylor, who represents New Brunswick’s Moncton–Riverview–Dieppe and served as health minister, and Kirsty Duncan, a longtime MP for Toronto’s Etobicoke North who served as minister of science and sport, have both been dropped from cabinet.
Both will instead take on different roles in Parliament: Petitpas Taylor as deputy whip and Duncan as deputy House leader.