CABINET SHUFFLE COULD BE IN THE WORKS AHEAD OF ELECTION THIS FALL
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.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has seemed to favour cabinet shuffles to put a new face on his government, Susan Delacourt writes.