Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shuffled his federal cabinet for the second time in less than two months, to fill the vacancy left following Jody Wilson-Raybould's abrupt departure. The opposition is framing it as an attempt to change the channel on the ongoing SNC-Lavalin scandal.
No new faces are joining the team; rather Trudeau moved around current ministers:
- The new Veterans Affairs Minister is Lawrence MacAulay, who was previously the minister for agriculture and agri-food.
- Replacing MacAulay as Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister is Marie-Claude Bibeau. She was previously the minister for international development.
- Taking on the position of International Development Minister is Maryam Monsef, who adds that responsibility to her current job as the Minister for Women and Gender Equality.
"In their new roles, the ministers will advance some of the Government of Canada's top priorities," a release from the Prime Minister's Office says.
Opposition MPs reacting to the shuffle described it as an attempt for the prime minister to deflect attention away from the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
"With this recent cabinet shuffle I think we've seen Justin Trudeau try yet again to change the channel," said Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen in the House of Commons foyer.
"It seems to me to be an attempt to distract from the obvious," NDP MP Daniel Blaikie told reporters. "This seems a lot like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic when there's obviously much bigger issues at stake."
MacAulay is a long-time Liberal MP from P.E.I., and has previously handled the veterans affairs portfolio when it was a secretary of state role many years ago.
"To represent veterans at the cabinet table, it's a distinct honour, it's an honour to be a minister at the table in any portfolio, but to have the chance to be in veterans affairs, really for the second time, is indeed a great honour," MacAulay said. "To have the honour to represent the people who preserve peace and democracy for us worldwide, that's a long piece from a demotion," he said.
Bibeau, a Quebec MP was first elected in 2015 and has been in the international development role since Trudeau named his first front bench lineup. Prior to politics she worked in the international development field, and owned a small camping business.
She becomes Canada’s first female federal agriculture minister.
"It's a huge privilege. I come from a rural riding, a dairy riding, actually, in the south of Quebec, so I'm already very close to the agricultural producers in Quebec, I know quite a bit about supply management,” she said.
Monsef was also first elected in 2015. She represents an Ontario riding and first held the democratic institutions role before being shuffled into the status of women portfolio in 2017.
"The work continues" Monsef said, vowing "continue to ensure that women are at the heart of the work that we do."
The last time Trudeau shuffled his cabinet was in January. That rejigging — prompted by longtime Liberal Scott Brison's departure — set off a series of events that have compounded in the ongoing SNC-Lavalin scandal.
At that visit to Rideau Hall, Trudeau shuffled Jody Wilson-Raybould out of her role as attorney general and justice minister and appointed her to veterans affairs. Replacing her was rookie Quebec MP David Lametti. Wilson-Raybould's move was seen by many as a demotion.
He also moved Jane Philpott to president of the Treasury Board and minister of digital government from Indigenous services. Replacing her as Indigenous services minister was former veterans affairs minister Seamus O'Regan. Trudeau also tapped rookie Nova Scotia MP Bernadette Jordan to join cabinet as rural economic development minister. She also fills the space left for a minister from that Atlantic province after Brison left.
Wilson-Raybould resigned as minister of veterans affairs on Feb. 12 in the wake of the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has been temporarily covering the portfolio since then.
The shuffle marks the end of a tumultuous week for the prime minister. On Wednesday, Wilson-Raybould testified before the House of Commons Justice Committee that, as the former attorney general, she faced a sustained months-long effort by nearly a dozen government officials pressuring her to intervene in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
In her stunning testimony, Wilson-Raybould described "veiled threats" from top officials within the Trudeau government. She also said that she believed she was shuffled as a result of her refusing to bow to pressure to direct federal prosecutors to drop the criminal case against the Quebec construction and engineering giant.
Trudeau has denied acting inappropriately and said he “completely” disagrees with Wilson-Raybould’s "characterization" of events.
After this morning's shuffle, Trudeau did not hold a media availability.
During their availability outside of Rideau Hall after their swearing-in ceremony, all three ministers were asked whether they were comfortable with Wilson-Raybould remaining in caucus.
They all offered responses along the lines of being comfortable with whatever decision Trudeau makes.
"These decisions are made by the prime minister and whatever decision that’s made... I can live with any decision that is made. But I know Jody, a well-respected lady," MacAulay said.
With files from CTV News' Michel Boyer and Graham Slaughter