Introduction + overview

The Liberal Government’s cabinet was sworn in just over 14 months ago promoting diversity, gender parity and proportional geographic coverage.

Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reshaped the government’s front bench. The recently announced cabinet shuffle is intended to refresh, refocus and refine the government’s policy agenda. The shuffle allowed the prime minister to move perceived strong players into roles that are critical to the government’s agenda while addressing some of the weaker performers. While the media reported the shuffle was in response to the Trump presidency, the reality is the Cabinet changes were in the works for weeks. In sum, this is more of a re-boot than a complete overhaul.

Trade has trumped foreign affairs

The cabinet shuffle comes days before the inauguration of US President-Elect Donald Trump. The government is aware the close relationship between the US and Canada will change particularly with President-elect Trumps preference for ‘American jobs, protectionist measures and re-setting the tariff and trade discussions.’ In response, the prime minister has mandated Freeland to improve relations with the US and to work with the US to make substantial progress on reducing impediments to trade and commerce.

The minister will be challenged in navigating the US-Canada relationship, needing to promote Canada’s interests which may at times be at odds with Trump’s political agenda. Her political staff are expected to stay with her along with her deputy Ian Shuggart and Canada’s Ambassador to the US, David McNaughton, will form a triumvirate to manage and report to the Prime Minister on the relationship.

Filling the role of international trade minister will now be François-Philippe Champagne, formerly parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance. Champagne, a proven communicator with strong experience in business, law and international trade, will support Freeland in furthering the trade priorities of the government.

In a press conference following the swearing-in ceremony, the prime minister emphasized the importance of Canada’s relationship with the US, but also Canada’s relationship with China.

China represents a key market for Canada and this was reflected in today’s shuffle. John McCallum, formerly minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship has been announced as Canada’s new Ambassador to China as he departs from cabinet. Minister McCallum has long represented the constituency of Markham with a significant Canada-Chinese population. As Minister of Immigration he ably completed his mandate letter. The Ambassadorship posting is a political and personal reward for Minister McCallum as he continues to fulfill a public service role.

Another member of the Liberal old guard and former Liberal Party leader, Stéphane Dion, is rumored to be taking a diplomatic role in the coming days. It is rumored that Dion was offered but not yet accepted a position as Ambassador to the European Union and Germany. In their new roles and with China and the EU as key economic markets for Canada, both former Ministers will continue to support Canada’s international trade agenda.

New faces, new relationships, new ideas

The Prime Minister used the Cabinet re-boot to inject new talent into his government.

Three MPs were promoted to ministerial positions, and three existing ministers were shuffled into new portfolios. The members of caucus promoted to the cabinet benches are widely recognized as strong communicators and relationship builders. They all demonstrate gender, racial, religious and linguistic strengths and play to the government’s core message of inclusivity and diversity. The appointment of lesser known MPs signals to caucus that with hard work and political acumen a route into cabinet is not impossible.

  • François-Philippe Champagne has moved from parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance to minister of international trade. Demonstrating consistently strong communication skills, including during question period, he brings intelligence and relevant experience to his new role. A first-term MP representing the Quebec riding of Saint-Maurice—Champlain, he is a real “little guy from Shawinigan”, with experience living and working abroad for large companies including ABB Group and AMEC, and serving on the corporate boards of others. His experience as a trade lawyer will be an asset in his role as international trade minister.
  • Ahmed Hussen, has become minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, replacing John McCallum. Hussen, a lawyer and Somali-born immigrant representing the Toronto riding of York South – Weston, has practiced law in the areas of criminal defence, immigration and refugee law, and human rights. He also served as an assistant to former Ontario Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty; and
  • Karina Gould, who becomes minister of democratic institutions, replacing Maryam Monsef. Gould, representing the Ontario riding of Burlington, was educated in political science and international relations at McGill University and the University of Oxford in the UK respectively, and has worked as a consultant to the Organization of American States, representing 34 member countries in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Maryam Monsef, formerly minister of democratic institutions, has become minister of status of women.
  • Patty Hajdu who is now minister of employment, workforce development and labour.

Continuity in key portfolios

Many frontline ministers have retained their current portfolios in spite of today’s shuffle. Among these are Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, Treasury Board President Scott Brison and Heritage Minister Melanie Joly. This shuffle is therefore seen as more of a reboot than a complete overhaul as many ministers remain in their positions. The notable absence of changes in these key portfolios is further evidence that the Prime Minister is very much in control, rewards hard work and expects communication performance.

What comes next

So what does the shuffle mean? Over the next days and weeks, new ministers and ministers with new portfolios will familiarize themselves with their personalized mandate letters, their new cabinet committee positions, as well as countless political and departmental briefings. The changes to the ministry announced today will be followed by changes to ministerial staff and parliamentary secretaries.

Nonetheless, this cabinet shuffle presents stakeholders with an opportunity. Any cabinet shuffle, large or small, creates a window of opportunity for stakeholders to re-engage with the government. Organizations make the most of an opportunity to introduce the minister to fresh ideas.

The window for engagement is about ensuring that ministers receive the benefit of outside counsel and advice from key stakeholders within their new areas of responsibility. To that end, many will seek out meetings or events that will allow them to meet with those interested in the activities of their respective departments and agencies. These are invaluable opportunities to be seized upon whenever and wherever possible.

In addition, the cabinet shuffle will require a shuffling of parliamentary secretaries, as one has been promoted to cabinet. Furthermore, the parliamentary secretaries were initially told their portfolios had a one-year mandate. When the House of Commons returns at the end of the month, certain changes will also have to be made to the membership of the Standing Committees of the House of Commons. With the departure from politics of Stéphane Dion and John McCallum, by-elections in Saint-Laurent and Markham — Thornhill will be called to replace these MPs in the coming months.