Prime Minister Trudeau has overhauled his front bench with an unsparing strategic reset that puts his best ground game performers in key roles for the eventual battle with Pierre Poilievre’s Conservative opposition.
Any questions about Trudeau’s position of strength in the Liberal Party – and his commitment to seeking a historic fourth consecutive mandate – should be put to rest with this shuffle. There is no sugar coating the facts: by kicking a staggering seven current cabinet ministers to the curb, Trudeau has expressed displeasure with their performance through his actions. While he may not admit it at the podium, Trudeau has signaled that his government needs to pivot to tackle the thorny topics that have dogged his government, including foreign interference, the opioid crisis, airline chaos, and public service strikes.
Trudeau has signaled generational change by promoting seven new faces to the cabinet, many of whom represent important voter constituencies that will be essential to the Liberals’ re-election chances. The Liberals have consistently trailed the Conservatives in the national polls and need to recapture some of the “sunny ways” energy that propelled Trudeau to office. While the sense of generational change in Trudeau’s 2015 election may feel like a distant memory, the Liberal brain trust hopes that more Canadians will see themselves reflected in a diverse and youthful new front bench, in contrast to the rage-farming tendencies of the Opposition.
Not every issue can be boiled down to raw politics, however. With this shuffle, Trudeau has moved several strong performers (Duclos, Fraser) from portfolios that have been fixed under their watch, to departments in need of an overhaul. While strong communicators are needed to trumpet the government’s achievements (Holland, Boissonnault), competent managers (Leblanc, Miller) have been tasked with preventing bad news from consuming the government.
On this basis we can break our cabinet into four groups – who’s out, who’s in, who’s moving, and who’s staying put. We have commentary on the major moves in today’s shuffle.
Carolyn Bennett (formerly Mental Health and Addictions). First elected in 1997, the respected cabinet veteran will retire as the government faces mounting pressure from the opposition to step up the response to the opioid crisis.
Omar Alghabra (formerly Transport). Even in the face of fierce criticism by the opposition of the government’s mishandling of the aviation sector, Alghabra’s decision to step down came as a major surprise. He will not run in the next election.
Marco Mendicino (formerly Public Safety). Controversies surrounding gun control amendments, the convoy response, foreign interference and Paul Bernardo’s prison transfer proved too much to bear. A happy warrior, Mendocino has indicated that he will run again in the next election.
Joyce Murray (formerly Fisheries & Oceans). The Vancouver-Quadra MP was an experienced minister both provincially and federally and has announced her intention to retire from politics.
David Lametti (formerly Attorney General). The biggest surprise of the shuffle, it is hard to point to specific policy fumbles by Lametti, although opposition attacks on government justice policy have mounted.
Mona Fortier (formerly Treasury Board). Fortier’s Ottawa riding may be one of the safest Liberal seats in the country, but it’s hard to fight public servants clinging to pandemic-era work-from-home routines when many of them are also constituents.
Helena Jaczek (formerly Public Services and Procurement). The former Ontario cabinet minister joined the federal cabinet after the 2021 election but has announced that she will not seek re-election.
Gary Anandasangaree – Crown-Indigenous Relations. A human rights lawyer from Scarborough’s Tamil community, Gary is popular with caucus and one of the most eloquent advocates for ‘walking the walk’ on inclusiveness, diversity, equity and youth engagement. He also proved a highly effective communicator – and mediator – as a Parliamentary Secretary for Crown-Indigenous Relations.
Rechie Valdez – Small Business. The first Filipino woman elected to Parliament, Valdez will give Canada’s enormous Filipino diaspora a voice government and takes Alghabra’s spot as Mississauga’s representative in cabinet. A former entrepreneur in the region, we can expect her to know the issues of this file well.
Jenna Sudds – Families, Children and Social Development. The former Ottawa city councillor nudged Mona Fortier out of the cabinet in the National Capital Region. A former federal government economist, Sudds narrowly won her Kanata-Carleton riding in the last election. She now takes over the implementation of the new national childcare program which is facing growing pains as the government seeks to match the necessary resources with its ambitions.
Terry Beech – Citizens’ Services. The Burnaby North—Seymour MP survived heated debates over the government’s approval and purchase of the TMX pipeline, which will bring new tanker traffic to the terminus in his riding. His experience as a parliamentary secretary across ministries such as Finance, Fisheries, and Transport should prove useful as he tackles criticism from the opposition that “everything is broken” by handling the basic delivery of services like passport renewals.
Ya’ara Saks – Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health. A dual citizen of Canada and Israel, Saks gives the government a much-needed voice from the Jewish community in cabinet. She is an important counterbalance to Conservative Deputy Leader Melissa Lantsman, who is a prominent voice for the same community from a neighboring York region riding. She will be taking over from Carolyn Bennett on combatting the toxic drug crisis across Canada.
Arif Virani – Justice and Attorney General. A lawyer from the Liberal-NDP swing riding of Parkdale-High Park, Virani has held several parliamentary secretary roles for the ministers of Justice, Immigration, and Heritage. An Ismaili Muslim, Virani’s family fled Uganda when he was a baby before settling in Toronto as refugees. Virani’s elevation to this senior post in cabinet is a major vote of confidence in his abilities as the government balances a “tough on crime” approach with ensuring that marginalized groups are not disproportionately incarcerated.
Soraya Martinez Ferrada – Tourism and Minister responsible for the Economic development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. Martinez-Ferrada first came to Ottawa as an advisor for Melanie Joly, with strong bona fides in community development and municipal politics. She served as a city councillor for Saint-Michel and was appointed to the City of Montreal’s Executive Committee. As an elected MP she burnished her reputation for handling challenging files as Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and then for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. In her new role, she will travel the country to implement the government’s new Federal Tourism Growth Strategy.
Anita Anand – President of the Treasury Board. Branded as an economic portfolio, Anand’s attention to detail will be put to work reviewing new government programs and regulatory changes. Anand will be challenged to hold her colleagues to account for their spending asks in the face of limited economic growth. She now occupies one of the most important roles in government and faces the challenge of giving it a greater public profile if she harbors future leadership aspirations.
Dominic Leblanc – Public Safety, Democratic Institutions, and Intergovernmental Affairs. Trudeau’s most trusted colleague, nicknamed the “Minister for Janitorial Services” for his ability to clean up challenging files, has already been stick-handling negotiations with the opposition to launch a new public inquiry into foreign interference. He faces the immediate challenge of getting new new gun control legislation through the Senate. By retaining his intergovernmental affairs title, he may put police reform on the federal-provincial agenda as many communities struggle with policing.
Bill Blair – National Defence. Blair is back in a senior portfolio where he will be called to take on the “deep state” of the Canadian military establishment who routinely resist the government of the day. The former Toronto police chief will oversee the major defense policy review currently underway that will direct Canada’s future military spending in the context of a global arms race spurred by Russian and Chinese aggression.
Marc Miller – Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship. Miller is arguably one of the strongest cabinet ministers, tackling the historically challenging Indigenous Affairs file by securing multiple agreements to give land back to First Nations. In this new role, Miller will oversee Canada’s ambitious targets to welcome half a million new immigrants annually to address major labour shortages in a growing but aging economy.
Sean Fraser – Housing, Infrastructure, and Communities. A major boost for one of cabinet’s rising stars, Fraser inherits the government’s hottest file as housing costs spiral out of reach for a generation of Canadians and the housing shortage puts Canada’s immigration targets at risk. Fraser will be immediately thrust into the spotlight with a Fall Economic Statement that is expected to renew Canada’s multi-year infrastructure funding.
Jean-Yves Duclos – Public Services and Procurement. The government’s leading policy mind, Duclos will turn his analytical skills to fixing the government’s slow procurement processes, as the need to modernize aging IT systems and military equipment grows in the face of foreign threats.
Mark Holland – Health. Following the new health funding deals brokered by Duclos, Holland will be in implementation mode, but he will also face the challenge of advancing the pharmacare agenda against the backdrop of limited government resources. The former House Leader’s experience of negotiating with the NDP could come in handy especially on the pharmacare file.
Randy Boissonnault – Employment, Workforce Development and Official Languages. The Edmonton MP, Alberta’s lone voice in cabinet, earns a promotion as Canada’s new jobs minister. Expect Boissonnault to put his energy and communications skills to work promoting the government’s Sustainable Jobs Plan, which remains controversial in his home province. A proud Franco-Albertan, Boissonnault will oversee the implementation of the recently amended Official Languages Act.
Pablo Rodriguez – Transportation and Quebec Lieutenant. After steadying the tumultuous Heritage file, Rodriguez takes on transport ahead of further possible labour disruptions in the federally regulated aviation sector. He maintains his Quebec Lieutenant title, which gives him added resources to ensure that Quebec’s priorities are reflected in government policy.
Pascal St. Onge – Canadian Heritage. St Onge makes the transition from stakeholder to minister as the former president of the Fédération nationale des communications et de la culture, Quebec’s major cultural union. This move shores up St. Onge’s political fortunes, as she won her Brome—Missisquoi riding in Quebec’s Eastern Townships by less than 200 votes against the Bloc Quebecois. The first openly lesbian MP to hold a cabinet post, St. Onge will inherit the implementation of the contentious Online News Act and oversee the introduction of new online harms legislation.
Karina Gould – Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. A strong Question Period performer, Gould will now command the Liberal parliamentary strategy in the minority government. After recently announcing that she is expecting her second child, staying close to Ottawa will be a welcome change for Gould who traversed the country to announce $10/day childcare deals with the provinces. In the meantime, Steven Mackinnon will be taking over during her upcoming parental leave.
Carla Qualtrough – Sport and Physical Activity. After shepherding new Disability and Inclusion legislation through the House, Qualtrough expended a great deal of her energies building consensus for the challenging regulatory path ahead for her bill. Now the former Olympian can focus on her policy strengths once again by returning to the sport file.
Gudie Hutchings– Rural Economic Development and Minister Responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. Hutchings will stay the course with rural files but fortify her strengths in regional economic development as she takes on ACOA as well. With a new Chief of Staff coming from PMO, she is widely perceived as one of the Cabinet’s dependable and solid performers.
Ahmed Hussen – International Development. After taking flack for losing the housing narrative to the Conservatives, Hussen’s new focus is less essential to the Liberals’ affordability narrative. Hussen’s strong talents in community relations and his background as a Somali refugee will serve him well on the international development file which is intensely important to diverse communities across the country – and Canada’s global reputation.
Ginette Pettipas-Taylor – Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence. Petitpas-Taylor’s new role marks something of a rehabilitation after a rocky time as Health Minister, followed by diligent work in the Official Languages portfolio where she shored up her political capital with the Francophone communities across the country.
Lawrence MacAulay – Agriculture and Agri-Food. MacAulay returns to this portfolio from Veterans Affairs. One of the select few Liberal MPs with a primarily rural constituency and a minister with strong credentials with the sector, he will be able to lean into his strengths more comfortably as the government develops its new sustainable agriculture strategy.
Harjit Sajjan – President of the King’s Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Emergency Preparedness and Minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development agency of Canada. Sajjan steps into Blair’s former role which has taken greater importance with the rise of climate-related disasters, which will require greater coordination between multiple departments.
Diane Lebouthiller – Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. The longtime Revenue minister representing Gaspésie—Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine has strong bona fides with the sector as an effective communicator for the rural Francophone constituency in Quebec. The Revenue Minister for the last eight years, Lebouthillier’s new role will be seen as a well-deserved promotion by her Cabinet colleagues, but she’ll have to prove she can communicate effectively with stakeholders in Western Canada as well, especially on the contentious aquaculture file.
Kamal Khera – Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities. Khera’s rise in cabinet reflects her talents in community engagement and consensus building. As a former healthcare professional, she excelled in stakeholder relations as the Minister of Seniors. She is knowledgeable about the issues facing this portfolio, and we should expect her to act on anti-black racism and other issues facing marginalized Canadians.
Mary Ng – Export Promotion, International Trade and Economic Development. Ng’s new title is less a demotion than an acknowledgement that the small business portfolio requires greater focus and resources as the government works to bend the arc of economic recovery back to growth. She has the PM’s trust and support as a former staffer in PMO and longtime colleague of Trudeau’s Chief of Staff Katie Telford.
Who’s staying put
Chrystia Freeland – Deputy Prime Minister and Finance. The government’s jack of all trades, Freeland will need to shift her focus from fixing problems to communicating the government’s economic message as inflation is wrestled back to target. Following a focused and narrow fiscal track, Freeland has calmed “blue Liberals” while also putting significant resources behind major initiatives like childcare and the clean energy transition. Expect more of this steady approach from the future Liberal leadership aspirant, who shows no sign of quitting government, no matter how in demand her considerable skills may be internationally.
Francois-Phillipe Champagne – Innovation, Science and Industry. The government’s “energizer bunny” may be Canada’s greatest salesman, as he travels the globe to attract foreign investments in zero-emission vehicles, semi-conductors and biomanufacturing. A leading future leadership contender, Champagne frequently emphasizes how Canadian talent is the determining factor in landing global investments, at a time when the government needs to re-invest in fundamental research or risk a brain drain.
Melanie Joly – Minister of Foreign Affairs. Thrust into the spotlight after Russia’s surprise invasion of Ukraine, Joly won praise for her Indo-Pacific Strategy as Canada pivots away from our once cozy relationship with China. Joly will need to balance her leadership ambitions at home with her busy schedule representing Canada abroad.
Steven Guilbeault – Environment and Climate Change. Despite efforts to brand Quebec’s version of David Suzuki as the enemy of Canada’s energy industry, Guilbeault’s pragmatic messaging leads some to hope that the government may yet strike the right balance as his department works with the energy and transportation sectors to reduce emissions. Guilbeault has two major items on his plate this year: striking a deal on CCUS in the oilsands that will align regulations, funding and project approvals; and adopting a Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate that will not harm Canada’s auto sector.
Jonathan Wilkinson – Energy and Natural Resources. The other half of the government’s climate change fighting duo, Wilkinson took some heat for not appearing at the World LNG conference in his Vancouver backyard. His portfolio has been rebranded to include energy, to emphasize the new role of the federal government in supporting the clean energy transition for the electricity, nuclear and oil and gas sectors. Wilkinson will have to advance faster project approvals to deliver on the ambitions of the Critical Mineral Strategy.
Seamus O’Regan – Labour and Seniors. On the heels of a hard-fought negotiation with Vancouver’s port workers, O’Regan has cultivated support from private sector labour unions across Canada through engagement on the Sustainable Jobs policy. O’Regan’s expanded mandate to support seniors, who are a key voter demographic for the Liberals, speaks to O’Regan’s skills as one of the government’s most visible and articulate spokespeople.
Patty Hajdu – Indigenous Services and Responsible for Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario. Hajdu’s community relations skills as a former social worker and public health policy advocate in northern Ontario are well suited to her current role. The stability of her continued work will help to advance progress on the wide range of health, education and housing issues impacting Indigenous Canadians.
Marci Ien – Women and Gender Equality and Youth. A strong communicator, Ien will continue her work to implement the Federal 2SLGBTQIA+ Action Plan and the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence. Ien is also the government’s point person on reproductive rights, an issue that is bound to come back into focus in the lead-up to the next election.
Filomena Tassi – Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. Tassi voluntarily left the Procurement portfolio because of family considerations last year but she has remained engaged locally via her role with FedDev Ontario. She is a strong constituency MP in a riding and municipality where the Liberals hope to make gains in the next election.
Dan Vandal – Northern Affairs, Minister responsible for Prairies Economic Development Canada and Minister responsible for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency. Winnipeg’s representative in the cabinet, Vandal’s strong rapport with Indigenous and northern communities has been bolstered by his successful efforts securing strategic investments in his region. He is supported by the first Inuk Chief of Staff in a Trudeau cabinet (Kathy Kettler) and has fostered strong relationships with his western caucus colleagues as a champion for resource development and job creation.
With the cabinet shuffle behind us, the government now turns its attention to a contentious fall sitting where infrastructure and housing issues are expected to dominate. Thus far it appears that Trudeau has decided against prorogation, foregoing the opportunity to reset the government’s public agenda with a new throne speech, which indicates that they remain committed to their legislative agenda and will continue to move bills through Parliament. A major question for the Liberals is the status of the Supply and Confidence Agreement with the NDP, and whether the current deal in place is sturdy enough to keep the government afloat until Fall 2025. If cracks start to appear in the agreement, don’t be surprised if a newly renegotiated pact emerges.
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