HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia's premier expanded cabinet by one member and brought back a former minister in his first shuffle since the Liberal government was elected nearly two years ago.

Under changes announced at the legislature Friday, Stephen McNeil moved Lena Metlege Diab from the justice portfolio and named her immigration minister, meaning the government would increase the size of cabinet to 17 members from 16.

The department had been one of Diab's responsibilities in her previous job.

McNeil said creating the standalone portfolio signals the importance he places on the immigration file.

"It's an issue most Nova Scotians recognize we need to get right," said McNeil. "We need to grow the population."

Another notable move saw former energy minister Andrew Younger returned to cabinet in the environment portfolio. Younger resigned from cabinet in March to take a leave of absence after a woman was charged with assaulting him.

McNeil said he is comfortable with bringing Younger back to the government's front bench after granting him leave to spend with his family.

"He's been a capable minister. He ran the Department of Energy for us and did a tremendous job."

Younger's return saw Randy Delorey move from environment to finance and Diana Whalen from finance to justice.

Zach Churchill becomes the new minister of municipal affairs and minister of Communications Nova Scotia.

Backbencher Lloyd Hines was sworn in as the only new member of cabinet, taking over the natural resources portfolio.

Both the Opposition Progressive Conservatives and the NDP questioned the move to increase cabinet's size during a time of government austerity.

"It sends the wrong message for the Premier to add another cabinet minister to his inner circle at a time when he's telling everyone else to cut back," said Tory Leader Jamie Baillie.

In other moves, McNeil named Education Minister Karen Casey as chair of the Finance and Treasury Board, while Labour and Advanced Education Minister Kelly Regan takes on duties as the minister responsible for youth.