CAB­I­NET SHUF­FLE COULD BE IN THE WORKS AHEAD OF ELEC­TION THIS FALL

Su­san Dela­court

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Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau ap­pears to be gear­ing up for this 2019 elec­tion year with an early re­set of his gov­ern­ment — in­clud­ing a pos­si­ble cab­i­net shuf­fle in the days ahead.

Shuf­fle spec­u­la­tion has been heat­ing up over the past cou­ple of days in Ot­tawa in ad­vance of next week’s cab­i­net re­treat in Sher­brooke, Que.

Trudeau has tended to use long breaks in the Com­mons to make ad­just­ments to his cab­i­net and gov­ern­ment, and this is ef­fec­tively the PM’s last chance be­fore the sum­mer break that will also kick off the pre-elec­tion, fol­lowed by the of­fi­cial elec­tion cam­paign in the fall.

While Trudeau’s of­fice hasn’t con­firmed any im­mi­nent shuf­fle, pointed in­quiries about the pos­si­bil­ity haven’t been dis­missed or de­nied, ei­ther. Cur­rent bets are that it will hap­pen early next week, be­fore the Sher­brooke re­treat.

Other de­vel­op­ments also in­di­cate a sig­nif­i­cant 2019 re­set — a raft of new deputy min­is­ters in key posts re­lated to pro­vin­cial and for­eign af­fairs, and a new head of is­sues man­age­ment in the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice, Brian Clow, who was the lead ad­viser to the gov­ern­ment on rene­go­ti­at­ing free trade last year with the United States and Mex­ico.

As well, the prime min­is­ter said in a year-end in­ter­view with me that he would not be do­ing a new throne speech be­fore the elec­tion, as many had ex­pected.

Other prime min­is­ters have used throne speeches to put a new face on their gov­ern­ments, es­pe­cially be­fore elec­tions, but Trudeau seems to favour cab­i­net shuffles to serve that pur­pose.

“The plat­form we got elected on was as am­bi­tious and im­pact­ful a plat­form that any gov­ern­ment had got­ten elected on in a very, very long time,” Trudeau said, by way of ex­pla­na­tion for why his gov­ern­ment would be one of the rare ones in Canada to start and fin­ish its man­date with only one par­lia­men­tary ses­sion.

“Of­ten you get to a point half­way through a man­date where some­one’s ticked off all their elec­tion prom­ises and (says), ‘OK, we need to fig­ure out we're do­ing the se­cond half.’ We had a plan for the en­tire man­date.”

In the mean­time, the prime min­is­ter has plunged into this

Jan­uary with a se­ries of town hall meet­ings with Cana­di­ans — the first on Wed­nes­day in Kam­loops, B.C. This has be­come a Jan­uary habit, but the cli­mate around these ones feels sim­i­lar to his hit-the­ground ef­forts in 2017, right af­ter Don­ald Trump’s vic­tory in the U.S., when Trudeau set out to counter pop­ulist pol­i­tics. A cab­i­net shuf­fle was also part of that mix in 2017 — the one that in­stalled Chrys­tia Free­land in the for­eign af­fairs post, where she be­came Trudeau’s point per­son deal­ing with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Trudeau also shuf­fled his cab­i­net last sum­mer in re­ac­tion to an­other ex­ter­nal, po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment (some would say threat) — the elec­tion of Doug Ford’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment in On­tario. That shuf­fle put Do­minic LeBlanc in In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs, to serve as Trudeau’s backup in deal­ing with Ford.

So what would prompt the prime min­is­ter to shift some jobs around the cab­i­net this Jan­uary, be­sides a pre-elec­tion re­fresh?

One pos­si­bil­ity would be to re­place min­is­ters who may be re­tir­ing or un­der­per­form­ing — views are mixed, for in­stance, on whether Trudeau has the strong­est team in place to nav­i­gate the deeply po­lar­ized pol­i­tics in 2019 sur­round­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, pipe­lines and car­bon taxes.

Nat­u­ral Re­sources Min­is­ter Amar­jeet Sohi has been tak­ing the brunt of rage sim­mer­ing in Al­berta over the in­abil­ity to get pipe­lines built, and En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Cather­ine McKenna has been in her job a lit­tle longer than most in that po­si­tion over the past few decades.

Trudeau may want to pro­mote some back­benchers in re­gions of the coun­try where the Lib­er­als need to keep enough seats to hold on to a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment — in At­lantic Canada, Que­bec and sub­ur­ban swing ar­eas of On­tario and British Columbia.

He may also want to put some new cab­i­net power be­hind pro­grams that will fig­ure largely in a Lib­eral elec­tion plat­form — phar­ma­care and a na­tional ba­sic in­come are two such ideas that have been floated by Trudeau and his team in the past year.

At this point, it isn’t clear whether the shuf­fle spec­u­la­tion points to mi­nor tweaks or whole­sale re­newal.

It’s of­ten hap­pened that in­tended small shuffles turn out to be large ones, sim­ply be­cause of all the geog­ra­phy and gen­der con­sid­er­a­tions in­volved in cob­bling to­gether any cab­i­net.

But while a big shuf­fle isn’t 100 per cent cer­tain, the con­ver­sa­tions are un­der way in Ot­tawa.

Let the bet­ting be­gin.

ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau has seemed to favour cab­i­net shuffles to put a new face on his gov­ern­ment, Su­san Dela­court writes.

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