Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shuffled his federal cabinet to fill a vacancy left by a key minister and to field the team that could take him into the next federal election.
Tuesday’s shuffle came shortly after the resignation of Mississauga MP Navdeep Bains, who has served as minister of industry, innovation, and science since Liberals came to power in 2015, and says he will not run again in the next election.
Bains, who served as an MP between 2004 and 2011 before making a comeback in the 2015 election, said in a video posted to Twitter it was time to prioritize his young family.
In a virtual ceremony Tuesday morning with Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, former foreign affairs minister François-Philippe Champagne was named Bains’ replacement as industry minister, while Marc Garneau was moved to foreign affairs, becoming Canada’s top diplomat just ahead of Joe Biden’s swearing-in as the next U.S. president.
Former key minister and Winnipeg MP Jim Carr was also appointed to cabinet as a minister without a portfolio and special representative for the Prairies. Carr’s return to cabinet full-time suggests his health has improved since he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, in October 2019.
“It’s great to have you back. It’s great to have you healthy,” Trudeau told Carr during the ceremony. “Lots of work ahead.”
Mississauga MP Omar Alghabra, the only fresh face promoted in Tuesday’s shake-up, will take over Garneau’s former post as minister of transport.
Alghabra later told reporters his life experience, arriving in Canada from Saudi Arabia as a student with only one cousin in the country, as a Syrian Muslim and an engineer, has positioned him well to provide insight at the cabinet table with this opportunity to “serve along giants.”
“My story represents the story of many, many Canadians.”
Trudeau has said departments that are key to Canada’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis should be led by those who are planning to run in the next election campaign.
When Bill Morneau resigned as finance minister in August amid the WE Charity controversy, he said it was because he didn’t plan to run in the next campaign and instead wanted to run for secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development.
At a virtual press conference, Bains said his decision to exit politics came after a tough conversation over the holidays with the eldest of his two daughters, who is in Grade 8. Bains said she told him that if he runs and wins again, she’ll be off to university by the time he is finished with politics.
“And I came to the realization with my wife that I’ve got this small window of opportunity to spend time with my girls and they’ve sacrificed so much for me,” Bains said.
Champagne, who represents the Quebec riding of Saint-Maurice—Champlain, was appointed to foreign affairs after the 2019 election. He suggested he was not sad to be leaving behind the coveted role so soon, nor does he see it as a demotion. Job creation will be “at the very heart of all decisions the government makes in the upcoming months,” the new industry minister said.
Garneau, who represents a Montreal riding, said he worked well with U.S. counterparts in both the administrations of Barack Obama and Donald Trump during his five years as transport minister. He told reporters he looked forward to working with the Biden administration as foreign affairs minister.
Garneau says Canada, U.S. ‘inextricably linked’
As an ex-astronaut who took part in three NASA flights, Garneau said he lived in the U.S. for nine years and developed “very strong relationships” in that country.
“Two of my children were born there,” he said. “I believe very strongly that no bilateral relationship is more important that of Canada with the United States, and it will continue to be that way. We are inextricably linked,” he said.
Carr suggested issues that are top of mind in the Prairies can be “complex” and “controversial” because they’re files that touch on natural resources and international trade — two cabinet positions he previously held.
“The Prairie west is producing what the world needs: protein, value-added agriculture, energy, renewable energy, community building,” he said.
Carr, who has recovered from receiving a stem-cell transplant in May, said there’s a silver lining to the COVID-19 crisis because the pandemic has “brought many political leaders together.”
The Liberals were swept out of Saskatchewan and Alberta in the last election. Carr said he will focus on reaching out to the West to make inroads in that part of the country.
PM says he does not want a spring election
With speculation rife about a possible spring election, the ministers wouldn’t say if they had each been asked by Trudeau or the Liberal campaign team if they planned to run again.
Champagne told reporters it “goes without saying that the prime minister is looking ahead and certainly would want ministers to be present (because) we’re facing one of the most challenging times in our nation’s history… with respect to the COVID crisis and economic recovery.”
At a briefing outside of Rideau Cottage, the prime minister said he hadn’t asked his ministers if they were ready to run in the next election in the period between Bains informing Trudeau “a few days ago” he was leaving politics and Tuesday’s cabinet shuffle.
“From the very beginning of any minority Parliament, every political party understands that elections can happen,” he said. “But as I’ve been consistently saying, we don’t want an election. We need to continue to work hard and focus on Canadians.”
The prime minister said he hopes to work “constructively in Parliament this spring,” but can’t control what other parties will do in the coming months.
Asked if he would commit to holding off on an election until every Canadian who wants a vaccine can get one — a goal the federal government has said will be achieved by September — Trudeau said, “obviously, that is our preference.”
Trudeau’s latest shuffle comes ahead of a cabinet retreat focused on the government’s response to the pandemic.
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With files from Zi-Ann Lum