Prompted by Scott Brison’s resignation from Cabinet as President of the Treasury Board and his announcement that he will not seek re-election later this year, the Prime Minister announced several changes to his cabinet on January 14, 2019.
While today’s changes saw movement at only four ministries, the cabinet has grown by one seat, and several shifts carry additional pointed significance. David Lametti, a newcomer to cabinet, takes on an important and high-profile role as Minister of Justice and Attorney General. He replaces Jody Wilson-Raybould, who held the post since 2015 and now becomes the third Minister of Veterans Affairs of this mandate. While most will see this move as a demotion for Minister Wilson-Raybould, having a seasoned Minister at Veterans Affairs could help resolve some of the lingering issues with veteran’s benefits that have dogged this government. There are also serious challenges around the election promise to sufficiently address veterans’ pensions that provide Wilson-Raybould with an opportunity to prove herself in this role.
Jane Philpott will take on her third major portfolio of this mandate, becoming President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government, after serving as the first Minister of Indigenous Services and previously the Minister of Health. Seamus O’Regan replaces Minister Philpott at Indigenous Services.
Cabinet shuffles necessitate a careful geographical and demographic balance. Brison’s departure left cabinet without a minister from Nova Scotia. Bernadette Jordan now fills that role as Minister of the newly established Rural Economic Development portfolio.
(Markham Stouffville, ON)
President of the Treasury Board Minister of Digital Government
Philpott takes on her third cabinet position, moving from the recently created portfolio of Indigenous Services to take over as President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government.
Philpott’s appointment sends a strong status quo signal to Treasury Board. She will adjust quickly to her new role, already being aware of many files through her role as vice chair of the Treasury Board Secretariat. With only six months of real governing left in this mandate, it is clear the Prime Minister wanted a Treasury Board President that could hit the ground running and not delay the passage of important government initiatives in the final days of the mandate.
She also becomes Minister of Digital Government, continuing the work to modernize how the government does business and serves the public.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Long considered a strong performer, Lametti has vaulted into a key cabinet post, taking over as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. The post allows him to take advantage of his extensive experience as a law professor and Associate Dean of Faculty of Law at McGill University.
Lametti becomes the second Italian-Canadian in cabinet, the ninth minister from Quebec, and the fourth minister from Montreal. His promotion provides this government the opportunity to shore up support in Quebec.
(St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, NFLD)
Minister of Indigenous Services
As Minister of Veterans Affairs since August 2017, O’Regan has faced a series of challenges on the file. While having been viewed as an outspoken champion for Canadian veterans and guiding the rollout of a range of new benefits for veterans, he has also received scrutiny on the rollout of the Pension for Life initiative and other public comment blunders.
In his post as Minister of Indigenous Services – a position that is little more than a year old – O’Regan replaces a high-performing minister and takes on a complex and extensive mandate. The relationship with Indigenous communities has been a priority for the Liberals since forming government, but progress on issues related to health, clean water and other services have been a challenge. Given his close relationship to the Prime Minister, this appointment could signal Trudeau’s increased interest and involvement in this file.
(Vancouver Granville, BC)
Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence
Wilson-Raybould has served as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada since 2015, working with other ministers on a range of critical issues, including physician-assisted dying and cannabis legalization. However, Wilson-Raybould has not independently led major initiatives and has received opposition criticism for unfilled appointments in the judicial ranks.
Minister Wilson-Raybould’s move today will be viewed as a demotion, but Veterans Affairs presents unique and entrenched issues. She will, however, be the third Minister of Veterans Affairs during this mandate and will need to smooth over stakeholders in advance of an election where veterans’ issues could loom large. Wilson-Raybould has been and will continue to be, a high-profile figure in the Liberal ranks. She is a prominent voice in British Columbia and with Indigenous communities across Canada.
(South Shore-St. Margarets, NS)
Minister of Rural Economic Development
Jordan was first elected in 2015 in South Shore-St. Margarets, a riding that been considered a safe Conservative seat. Previously the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, Jordan becomes the first female minister to represent the province of Nova Scotia.
Jordan’s appointment as the government’s first Minister of Rural Economic Development demonstrates the government’s recognition that more resources need to be dedicated to rural issues and could foreshadow a looming economic recession later this year. This move also signals the governing Liberals acknowledge their vulnerability in rural Canada and intend to make rural issues a priority in the lead up to election this fall. Minister Jordan will be tasked with rebuilding relationships with rural communities, as well as ensuring access to reliable high-speed internet and promoting infrastructure funding for rural communities.
The House of Commons is two weeks away from returning from the holiday recess, with only 14 sitting weeks left in this mandate. Though the window for significant policy developments is small and closing, the 2019 Budget will be a final chance for any major policy and program initiatives in advance of the campaign this fall.
Newly minted ministers Lametti and Jordan will join their colleagues in Sherbrooke, Quebec for a cabinet retreat from January 16 to 18. This will be followed by a full Liberal caucus meeting back in Ottawa this weekend.
The Cabinet retreat comes at a particularly defining moment. Canada’s political relationship with the US, China, Saudi Arabia and the UK will be a focus for Ministers. Ambassador’s from each of these countries will be presenting to Cabinet and advising on the controversies. Minister Morneau will provide an economic update to Cabinet before he and a few other Ministers prepare for Davos next week as part of the Canadian delegation. The caucus retreat in Ottawa will review the political and legislative agenda, focusing heavily on election readiness.
Conservative party caucus members will be meeting in Ottawa from January 25 to 27. Despite being amid an important by-election fight for Burnaby South, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh will caucus with his MPs before Parliament returns on January 28.