Justin Trudeau’s second-term cabinet shifts strong performers to his new minority government’s most challenging files, as he confronts significant political opposition from a majority of Canada’s premiers over energy policy and plans to shift to a clean economy.  

At the same time, the Prime Minister is keeping several stalwart ministers in key economic portfolios to lend the government stability and experience as they navigate the choppy waters of a minority parliament.

The gender-balanced cabinet features seven new faces, while a number of former ministers are not returning, showing a Prime Minister willing to elevate strong performers and make tough decisions after being burned by the resignations of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott in the last mandate. Contrary to speculation, Trudeau has not included a Western representative from outside of his elected caucus, choosing instead to rely on the Western roots of several of his ministers.

With the government anticipated to last longer than two years before returning to the polls, expect this team to remain largely intact for the duration of the current mandate. Parliament is scheduled to return in two weeks, giving the new ministers a short window to get briefed up on their files, hire key staff and review the mandate letters that will be made public in the coming days.

Here is Counsel’s take on the new cabinet:

Big Moves

Deputy Prime Minister & Intergovernmental Affairs – Chrystia Freeland

The strongest chess piece on the board, Trudeau is deploying native Albertan Chrystia Freeland to heal the rifts that emerged between the Prairie provinces and the rest of Canada, reprising the national unity role that Stephane Dion played after the 1995 Quebec referendum.  Freeland’s diplomatic skills, which helped to land a new NAFTA deal with the Trump administration, will be put to the test domestically as she engages Premiers Kenney and Moe on their long list of concerns relating to the energy sector, equalization and provincial powers. As Deputy Prime Minister, she will also be able to represent Trudeau at major events both at home and abroad. Freeland will also retain responsibility for Canada-US relations, working to ratify the new Canada-US-Mexico trade agreement south of the border.

Global Affairs – François-Philippe Champagne

Stepping into Freeland’s former role, Champagne is well-regarded within the Canadian diplomatic corps from his time as international trade minister in the last mandate. Restoring relations with China will dominate the file, as Canada continues to get the cold shoulder from the world’s second largest economy over the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. Champagne will need to carefully navigate the delicate issue of Hong Kong in this context. 

Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade – Mary Ng

In the same vein as Champagne, the Markham MP adds to her previous small business and export promotion responsibilities with the high-profile trade file. As the only Chinese-Canadian in cabinet, expect Ng to continue her outreach to the Chinese market as Canada seeks a new trade deal over the long-term.

Environment & Climate Change – Jonathan Wilkinson

Born in Saskatoon and later settled in Vancouver, Wilkinson will bring the Environment and Climate Change portfolio back home to British Columbia where these issues are most hotly debated. Wilkinson received wide praise for his work on the Oceans Protection Plan with his attention to policy detail and low-key demeanour. With a background in finance and environmental technology, his private sector experience working at a company that treats mining wastewater will help him navigate issues as diverse as the approval of major projects and the revamp of Canada’s effluent regulations. Also on his plate is development of Canada’s clean fuel standards, with significant implications across the economy. Wilkinson worked under Roy Romanow with the NDP in Saskatchewan, which could prove of note as the Liberals work to accommodate NDP environmental priorities in the minority context. 

Natural Resources – Seamus O’Regan

Hailing from Canada’s eastern oil producing region of Newfoundland, O’Regan inherits a file beset with challenges. On his to-do list is completing the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, shifting northern communities and mining projects away from diesel power, building interprovincial transmission, expanding hydrogen and electric fuelling infrastructure, and promoting innovation in Canada’s beleaguered forestry sector. A close personal friend of the Prime Minister, O’Regan will need to spend considerable time in Western Canada to address the concerns of the energy sector. 

Health – Patty Hajdu  

The new Health Minister distinguished herself over the last mandate and now has several major challenges on her plate, including pharmacare, drug pricing and the opioid crisis. Pharmacare is a marquee item for both the Liberals and the NDP, but will require tricky negotiations with the provinces as the single-payer model comes with a hefty $15 billion annual price tag. Drug pricing reform, if not handled correctly, may dry up research investment and the launch of new medications in Canada. Meanwhile, the opioid crisis continues largely unabated in many regions of the country and will require novel approaches to prevent more deaths.   

Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness – Bill Blair

With Ralph Goodale’s loss in Regina, former Toronto police chief Bill Blair is a natural fit at Public Safety, where he will be charged with implementing the popular gun control policies that helped to carry many suburban ridings in the recent election. Blair’s previous responsibilities for border security and organized crime reduction, supported by the same department, will likely be folded into this new role. 

Infrastructure & Communities – Catherine McKenna

One of the Trudeau government’s best-known ministers, McKenna will put her considerable social media and communications skills to work getting credit for the billions of dollars the government is investing in infrastructure projects across Canada. While the first mandate was bogged down by federal-provincial wrangling over these projects, the priority will now be getting money out the door and shovels into the ground on social housing and public transit projects. With many predicting an economic slowdown on the horizon, part of McKenna’s mandate will be keeping Canada’s construction workforce busy.

Treasury Board – Jean-Yves Duclos

Considered inside of government to be one of the most thoughtful and best performing ministers, voters outside of Quebec could be forgiven for never having heard of Jean-Yves Duclos. Hailing from the Quebec City riding, Duclos won the 2015 and 2019 elections by barely one per cent in a riding that is traditionally dominated by the Bloc Quebecois. Respected for his academic work on Canadian social policy, Duclos is widely credited for the successful design and implementation of the Canada Child Benefit – a policy reported to have lifted 278,000 children out of poverty. As Treasury Board President, Duclos will apply his policy acumen to ongoing reforms of government regulations and the scoping of new government programs.

Steady Hands

Finance – Bill Morneau

As expected, Morneau will keep his hands on the budgetary reins, a move that signals stability to Bay Street. While the spring budget is expected to largely draw from the recent Liberal platform, Morneau will have to keep a close eye on global economic indicators. If a recession is on the horizon, as many predict, expect the Liberals to invest even more to keep employment buzzing and to speed the transition to a clean economy.

Innovation, Science and Industry – Navdeep Bains

Trudeau’s political lieutenant, Bains will continue to interface with industry as he promotes Canada’s innovation agenda. Previous accomplishments include restoring the long-form census and leveraging large public/private investments to create regional “Super Clusters” in priority sectors across Canada. Bains will seek to attract additional foreign direct investment to Canada and grow innovation hubs across the country. He will also oversee the implementation of the new Digital Charter which will include an overhaul of the privacy and competition regimes given the growing role of digital platforms in the economy.

Transport – Marc Garneau

Canada’s first man in space, Garneau is set to break more records by lasting in a portfolio that usually burns through ministers. After passing landmark passenger rights legislation in his first mandate, Garneau is now facing major challenges in all modes of transport. CN Rail workers are currently on strike over fatigue rules, putting critical energy and agriculture shipments on hold that will further exacerbate frustrations in Western Canada. New 737 Max aircraft remain grounded while Air Canada’s proposed takeover of Air Transat looms. Garneau will also be the point person on the government’s zero-emission vehicle policy, which must also protect the vitality of Canada’s auto manufacturing sector.

National Defence – Harjit Sajjan

Former Lt. Colonel turned Minister Sajjan was given this high-profile post in the first cabinet selection in 2015. Minister Sajjan was nicknamed “Minister Badass” for his early efforts to showcase his military background. After suffering some hits midway through the last Parliament, he has held on to his posting in a file that often shakes ministers off if they are unable to balance the military and civilian needs of the Defence Department. 

Crown-Indigenous Relations – Carolyn Bennett

Minister Bennett has been a tireless advocate for Indigenous people across Canada in and outside of government. She presided over the separation of the previous file into Crown-Indigenous Relations and Indigenous Services. In her role, she is overseeing the nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations, including rights and recognition negotiations to devolve greater control over local services to Indigenous communities.

Justice and Attorney General – David Lametti

The first order of business for Jody Wilson-Raybould’s replacement at Justice will be revisiting her assisted dying legislation, which was rejected by the Quebec Superior Court. Expect the government to comply with the court’s request to make the law less restrictive by eliminating the requirement that only those near death can qualify for medical help to end their suffering. Lametti will likely continue to face questions about whether the government will pursue a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC Lavalin. 

Women & Gender Equality & Rural Economic Development – Maryam Monsef

Monsef finished the last mandate on a strong note and has been asked to stay on in a double-hatted role, adding rural economic development to her responsibilities. The Peterborough MP will have a decent appreciation for the challenges faced by Canada’s small towns and will be tasked with rolling out the government’s broadband internet program.

Also in returning roles, signalling the PM’s continued faith in their abilities:

  • Agriculture & Agri-Food – Marie-Claude Bibeau
  • Veterans Affairs – Laurence MacAulay
  • National Revenue – Diane Lebouthillier

New Faces

Canadian Heritage – Stephen Guilbeault 

The prominent environmentalist turned Quebec star candidate was featured heavily in Liberal party advertising throughout the campaign. With a seat at the cabinet table, Guilbeault will be able to influence the government’s direction on climate policy, but his primary focus will be the contentious culture file. With a review of Canada’s telecommunications and broadcasting acts expected to be made public in the new year, Guilbeault will be charged with reforming the funding of Canadian content in the digital era. Expect a clash with online content platforms including Netflix, Amazon and Disney.

Public Services & Procurement – Anita Anand

The rookie MP from Oakville is a University of Toronto law professor, investor rights advocate and corporate governance expert. This role is a significant vote of confidence in Anand, as the government has billions of dollars in new procurement on the horizon, especially with respect to defense modernization. At the top of her list will be selecting Canada’s new fleet of fighter jets, as Boeing’s Superhornet and Lockheed’s F-35 square off following the withdrawal of Airbus’ Eurofighter from the competition. 

Indigenous Services – Marc Miller

Marc Miller is now in his second term representing the Montreal riding of Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Sœurs. He was most recently the Parliamentary Secretary to Minister Bennett at Crown and Indigenous Services. A close personal friend of the Prime Minister, Miller has demonstrated his abilities with effective administration and learning to speak Mohawk to his constituents. Miller even addressed a speech to the House of Commons in Mohawk in an effort to demonstrate his commitment to reconciliation. In his role he will focus on eliminating boil-water advisories, delivering health services and reforming child and family services.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship – Marco Mendocino

The well-regarded Eglinton-Lawrence MP steps into a significant new role where he will be responsible for slowly but steadily increasing the number of immigrants admitted to Canada. As immigration and border crossing issues continue to cause friction with the government of Quebec, expect Mendocino to spend a lot of time working with the Legault government. He will also need to manage the growing influx of foreign students to Canada, a major source of revenue for Canada’s colleges and universities.

Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance – Mona Fortier

The co-chair of the Liberal Platform process, Ottawa MP Mona Fortier steps into cabinet in a brand new role that emphasizes the Liberal government’s focus on middle class affordability.  Expect her to promote the government’s middle-class tax cut and play a significant role in adding a gender lens to the budget process. 

Northern Affairs – Dan Vandal

Manitoba’s new representative in cabinet will be charged with engaging Canadians north of 60 and in remote communities. On his plate will be reducing the use of diesel in remote communities and advancing the needs of the territorial governments.

Seniors – Deb Schulte 

Deb Schulte takes over the seniors portfolio from Filomena Tassi. The MP for King-Vaughan was elected in 2015, and served as a regional councillor for the Region of York before making the jump to federal politics. As the population ages, the Trudeau government is ensuring that seniors’ concerns are represented directly in cabinet. 

New Roles

Government House Leader – Pablo Rodriguez

The well-liked veteran MP has been tasked with keeping the minority Parliament working by negotiating with the other parties in the House of Commons to get legislation and confidence votes passed. As a senior Quebec MP, the appointment of Rodriquez signals that the government is placing a high priority on relations with the Bloc Quebecois, who along with the NDP, hold the balance of power.   

Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard – Bernadette Jordan

The fisheries file switches back to the East Coast where it will benefit from Jordan’s pragmatic approach. This is a promotion from the rural economic development file that she held in the last mandate.  

President of Queen’s Privy Council for Canada – Dominic LeBlanc

Prime Minister’s Special Representative for the Prairies – Jim Carr

Both highly respected ministers, Carr and LeBlanc have had to step back from their ministerial duties to undergo cancer treatments. Trudeau has chosen to keep their political expertise in cabinet but without the taxing demands of running a department.  Expect the duo to play important roles on cabinet committees that take a closer look at policies before they reach the full cabinet table.

Families, Children & Social Development – Ahmed Hussen

The former Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Minister Hussen performed well in his previous role and has taken over from Minister Duclos, who has been moved to Treasury Board. This file is key for the Trudeau government as it administers programs like the Canada Child Benefit and drives the poverty reduction strategy. 

Economic Development and Official Languages – Melanie Joly

This is a promotion for Joly, who travelled the country in her previous tourism role and actively campaigned throughout Ontario and Quebec as one of the government’s highest profile ministers. Joly will have six parliamentary secretaries supporting her, and will be in charge of all the regional development agencies, as well as continuing to hold responsibility for tourism. 

International Development – Karina Gould

Foreign aid became a surprise issue during the election campaign when Andrew Scheer promised a 25 per cent cut. It will be interesting to see if the Liberals try to raise the domestic profile of international development as they grow their investments in feminist development assistance and continue to seek a seat on the UN Security Council.

Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion – Carla Qualtrough

Labour – Filomena Tassi

Patty Hajdu’s former portfolio has been split into two, recognizing the importance of labour issues to this government. Qualtrough and Tassi will need to contend with the CN Rail strikes, federal labour standards facing stiff opposition from industry, and a national discussion about the future of work given the disruptive threat of automation.

Also switching to new roles in the cabinet are:

  • Digital Government – Joyce Murray
  • Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth – Bardish Chagger


Photo credit: The new Liberal minority cabinet pose for a family photo following their swearing in at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang