Trudeau grows cabinet, with new focus on trade, borders, and seniors
OTTAWA – The federal cabinet got a reconfiguration and expansion Wednesday, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announcing a considerable cabinet shake-up that rearranged six ministers' responsibilities and promoted five MPs to the front bench.
The shuffle positions the governing Liberals to put new emphasis on internal and international trade, provincial relations, border security, seniors, as well as more broadly the changing political landscape domestically and evolving international circumstances.
The new appointments also allowed Trudeau to put in place the ministerial team he wants to take into the 2019 election and take on what he acknowledged as an "ambitious" remaining agenda.
Following the swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall, Trudeau told reporters outside that the files getting enhanced priority such as trade diversity, expanding tourism, promoting Canadian exports, still fit into his pledge to grow the economy and help the middle class.
Though, amid an enhanced provincial and territorial pushback to a handful of key federal files, like climate change, cannabis legalization, and irregular border crossers, Trudeau said it’s a priority for him to have a cabinet of "strong voices that are able to directly reassure Canadians about the path we're on."
With the retooling, Trudeau retains the gender parity in cabinet, with 18 men if you include the prime minister, and 17 women. The cabinet now includes 35 members, up from the 30 there were prior to today. No one was removed from cabinet, but a few ministers did have certain responsibilities handed over to someone else.
"I think this is an example of the Trudeau government’s triumph of style over substance. There’s been a lot of mistakes made over the last few years and so this is an attempt to try and lower the profile of some of the ministers that have been caught up in those mistakes," said NDP MP Daniel Blaikie on CTV News Channel. "Or on issues where they haven’t done a particularly good job, to try and pretend that we’re getting to a resolution of the issue by creating a cabinet post."
Trudeau has made a handful of previous adjustments to his cabinet, including a restructuring last summer aimed at resetting the nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous people. That shuffle saw the splitting of the Indigenous file into two portfolios, and rookies promoted to the front bench. There was also a considerable shuffle in January 2017 that saw some major portfolios rearranged to respond to the U.S. administration under President Donald Trump.
The new ministerial mandate letters and full details of each persons' portfolios will not be available until later this summer, but there are already early indications of what each minister's responsibilities will be.
Internal and international trade
On the trade front, Trudeau made a trio of changes, putting growing Canadian markets in some capacity part of three different ministerial portfolios.
"There's no question that the international context is constantly changing. There is certainly a level of clarity for Canadians, for businesses, for everyone across this country that we need to diversify our markets. We need to ensure that we are not as dependent on the United States," Trudeau said.
Long-time Liberal and trusted friend of the prime minister Dominic LeBlanc leaves the fisheries file to become the minister for intergovernmental and northern affairs and internal trade, where he is being tasked with taking on the federal relationship with the provinces and territories, as well as reducing internal trade barriers. He also takes on the northern file from Indigenous and Crown Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett.
"We have a clear agenda that we laid out before Canadians three years ago, and we look forward to working constructively with Premier Ford, with other premiers in order to implement that agenda. I think at the end of the day, Canadians expect our governments to work together," LeBlanc told reporters Wednesday.
Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson was promoted from the parliamentary secretary ranks to become the new minister of fisheries, oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard.
Jim Carr has been named minister of international trade diversification, taking over from François-Philippe Champagne, with a revised title that emphasizes the federal desire to look to new markets for trade relationships. Carr says he's already eyeing Asian, European, and South American markets as avenues for growth.
"We will at the same time be encouraging the world to invest in Canada while we encourage the world to buy from Canada," Carr said during a post-shuffle media availability at Rideau Hall.
Champagne is now the minister of infrastructure and communities, a position previously held by Amarjeet Sohi, who takes Carr's old job as the minister of natural resources. Sohi is from Alberta, where the Trans Mountain pipeline and its forthcoming twinning line, originate.
"The countries which offer the best infrastructure is oftentimes the ones which also attract the best talent, the best investment, and this is making sure that we obviously remain top when it comes to that around the world," Champagne told reporters following the shuffle.
Ontario MP Mary Ng was appointed minister of small business and export promotion, and is set to take over helping Canadian businesses compete here at home, and elsewhere. She picks up the small business file from Bardish Chagger, who remains in cabinet as the Government House Leader.
Border security, and border crossers
Ontario MP and former Toronto police chief Bill Blair took on a tri-focused new ministerial position: minister of border security and organized crime reduction. Broadly he is giving the federal government a heightened focus on border issues and crime.
He becomes the minister responsible for irregular migration, a simmering issue that has recently pitted the Ontario PC government and the Opposition Conservatives against the federal Liberals, over disagreements about how the issue is being handled, and who is responsible for ponying up resources to respond to Ottawa’s promise to welcome newcomers.
As part of this new portfolio, Blair will continue to oversee the federal legalization of cannabis, which is set to be implemented on Oct. 17. He was the government’s point-person on pot prior to this promotion.
A big question has been how the recreational use in Canada will impact people crossing the border into the U.S. where federal officials still consider it a crime. It’s also been a government line to say removing organized crime from marijuana sales is a reason for legalizing.
He is also taking on the issue of gun violence.
When asked about how Conservative leadership at the provincial level may affect his agenda when it comes to issues like border crossers, Trudeau pointed to an earlier conversation he had with the new Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair.
"He said, 'The number one enemy of public security is fear,'" Trudeau said, adding that he thinks the Conservatives are playing a "very dangerous game" around the politics of fear and pitting Canadians against each other.
"When Conservatives across the country are playing the fear card, we need strong reassuring forces to counter that and demonstrate that the safety and security of Canadians and their communities is something that we will never flinch on, that we will continue to deliver, and we will deliver in a way that pulls Canadians together instead of dividing them," he said.
Reacting to the cabinet shuffle, and Trudeau’s attack on her party for playing up "politics of fear," Deputy Conservative Leader Lisa Raitt pivoted to the border issue and Blair's appointment.
She said the creation of the cabinet role has proven the point her party has been making for months, which is that Trudeau shouldn't have posted that tweet in January 2017 welcoming all refugees to Canada.
"Well he clearly thinks there's a problem because he just appointed a cabinet minister in charge of it right?" she told reporters. "I guess the prime minister wishes to make this a fight about something else and it's not about anything else other than the fact that that border needs to be secured."
She also criticized the addition of "more bureaucracy" to address ongoing issues.
Seniors, accessibility, and Canadian culture
The federal government is creating a new ministry for seniors, and leading it will be Ontario MP Filomena Tassi. This is a completely new portfolio.
Speaking to why the government has elected to enhance its focus on seniors, Tassi, who used to be a chaplain, and had been deputy Liberal whip, said this is about "acknowledging the contributions that seniors have made to our society, to the economy, promoting those, and then providing opportunities for seniors to continue to do that, and to afford them the opportunity to know that moving forward, that we care about them, that we’re going to try to provide for them the best possible way of flourishing."
In a coming full circle of sorts, Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough has been given the additional responsibility of accessibility. Her first cabinet appointment was with the ministry of sport and persons with disabilities, where she began the work on major accessibility legislation that was finally tabled in June.
Given Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act was a mandate commitment, it’s expected to be a priority bill and in some ways flows well with her job of overseeing the public service, as if passed legislation will mean considerable changes to federal buildings including departments, and other federally-regulated spaces.
"We have to get ready for this new law because, as a Government of Canada and a big employer, we have to make sure that we are an employer that is very inclusive, and we have to get our government ready to be an accessible government," said Qualtrough on Wednesday.
Of note, the government is now referring to the file as "accessibility," and not disability.
The way the federal government is approaching Canadian heritage and culture also got a bit of a makeover in the shuffle.
Mélanie Joly is now the minister of tourism, official languages, and la Francophonie, which is a hybrid of a trio of files previously held by different ministers.
Taking over for Joly as minister of Canadian heritage, is Quebec MP Pablo Rodriguez, who adds multiculturalism to the title. He was previously the Liberal caucus whip.
As well, Trudeau made a handful of other adjustments to ministers’ existing responsibilities, including adding "minister of digital government" to Treasury Board President Scott Brison’s title, and Kirsty Duncan become the minister of science and sport, a blend of the two portfolios she previously held.
The rest of cabinet remained untouched, click here for the updated full list of federal cabinet ministers following the July 18 shuffle.
The shuffle leaves openings among the parliamentary secretary ranks, and the Liberal caucus in need of a whip and deputy whip. The government will have to address these vacancies ahead of the fall session.
With files from CTV News' Jackie Dunham