This morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced some key changes to his front bench. The pre-election mini-shuffle was triggered by the departure of a key political ally:

      • In a surprise move, Navdeep Bains announced in a video clip shared this morning that he will not be running for re-election in order to spend more time with his young family. Bains was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 2004 and has been Industry Minister since 2015. As one of Prime Minister Trudeau’s most trusted political organizers, he is well positioned to play a role in a future leadership race – perhaps as a candidate next time.
      • Francois-Philippe Champagne is the new Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, moving over from Global Affairs. An energetic minister in his previous roles, Champagne will give the Industry file a shot in the arm at a time when the government is gearing up to retool the Canadian economy after the pandemic. He will oversee significant new funds to help industry transition to a low carbon economy, with specific mentions of net-zero targets as well as increasing high-speed internet access in rural areas.
      • Marc Garneau will take up the post at Global Affairs, moving from Transport where he has served since 2015. The former astronaut is one of the Trudeau government’s most recognized ministers. While the pandemic has dampened foreign affairs, Garneau inherits the file at a time when tensions with China predominate and a shift in the US administration comes into focus.
      • Mississauga Centre MP Omar Alghabra takes over the Transport file from Garneau, the only new face to Cabinet in this morning’s shuffle. He inherits Transport at a time of turmoil, particularly with respect to aviation, as airlines struggle to stay afloat in the face of pandemic restrictions. We will be watching to see if Minister Alghabra is sympathetic to the plight of industry or if he maintains the government’s hard line in favour of passengers on issues like travel refunds.
      • Former Minister of Natural Resources and Minister of International Trade Diversification, Winnipeg South Centre MP Jim Carr will be reinstated into Cabinet after stepping aside to receive cancer treatment, continuing his work as Special Representative to the Prairies as “Minister without portfolio.” The post was created after the Liberals were wiped out in Alberta and Saskatchewan last election, in order to provide a voice in cabinet with the goal of addressing rising Western alienation.

As the Trudeau government prepares for a likely election in 2021, these new faces give the government the opportunity to reshape its message on several hot-button issues while keeping the core of the cabinet intact.

The announcement of these portfolio changes comes as the Prime Minister kicks off his four-day virtual Cabinet retreat to take place over the next two weeks, ahead of the House resuming on January 25th.

From the opposition’s perspective, this is a clear signal of a spring election. The departure of Bains is another opportunity to criticize the Supercluster initiative, which arguably has few tangible results, making it a prime target for partisan attacks. Promoting Jim Carr back to the cabinet table signals an increasing priority of the Prairies and intention to regroup from the losses they endured there in the 2019 election. While his role is de facto the same, being at the cabinet table brings a clear voice to cabinet decisions that will seek to further elevate the Prairies as a Liberal target region in the event of an election.

More details on today’s changes can be found here: