Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is preparing to shuffle his parliamentary secretaries following a cabinet shakeup last week and insiders say the changes coming could impact a majority of the PS positions.
Right now there are 33 parliamentary secretaries, with two vacancies to be filled: parliamentary secretary for International Development and La Francophonie, and parliamentary secretary for Finance. These positions were held, respectively, by Karina Gould (Burlington, Ont.), now the new Democratic Institutions minister, and Francois-Philippe Champagne, (St. Maurice-Champlain, Que.), now International Trade minister, whoÂ were both promoted to cabinet last week.
Sources said as many as 10 new parliamentary secretaries could be brought, 10 others dropped, andÂ 10 shuffled into new PS positions.
âIt wouldnât surprise me that it would be quite a few,â said Earnscliffe principal and former Liberal staffer AndrĂ© Albinati, who said it would be in line with the strategy of renewal seen with the Jan. 10Â cabinet shuffle.
However, others offered more subdued predictions.
âWeâre expecting to see some modest changes, but you never know, it could be bigger changes. âŠ We all serve at the pleasure of the prime minister,â said one current parliamentary secretary, speaking on a not-for-attribution basis.
When the parliamentary secretaries were appointed in December 2015, under theÂ Parliament of Canada Act, they were given maximum 12-month terms with the option for renewal. InÂ early December 2016, an order-in-council extended the appointments until Jan. 27, 2017, as the positions were being reviewed.
With Jan. 27 as the end of their term extensions, Cameron Ahmed, press secretary to Prime Minister Trudeau (Papineau, Que.), told The Hill Times âthere will be an update on parliamentary secretaries before the House resumes,â which is scheduled for Jan. 30. Mr. Ahmed would not comment on how many MPs could be impacted by the shuffle.
Compass Rose principal and former Liberal staffer Jacquie LaRocque told The Hill Times in an email: âWith the diversity of talent to be assigned and the amount of work to do, including many emerging issues and files, yes, there will be a lot ofÂ change. At the same time, there is an increasing need to look to [the election in] 2019 and it will be all hands on deck starting very soon.â
Liberals say the focus of the PS shuffle will be on keeping the caucus attentive and engaged and allowing more MPs the chance to see what itâs like to have additional responsibilities. Performance and ability to collaborate are other factors as well. The shuffle could also reflect changes some current parliamentary secretaries would like to see to their own placements.
Others may want to step out altogether to focus on other issues, like riding work in projected tight 2019 races. Also, as with the cabinet changes, the need to fill roles with people who have certain skills to get a job done is a factor, like pushing a bill through, is a consideration.
âThe prime minister has shown, whether it was dealing with the Senate or in the recent shuffle, heâs not necessarily sentimental. Itâs about who is going to do the best job. âŠ NotÂ everybody was road tested,â said Environicsâ senior vice-president of government relations and former Liberal staffer Greg MacEachern.
In this government, some parliamentary secretaries have been given additional responsibilities, like Bill Blair (Scarborough Southwest, Ont.), one of two parliamentary secretaries to Justice Minister Jody Wilson Raybould (Vancouver Granville, B.C.). Mr. Blair has been put in charge of the governmentâs marijuana legislation. As well, Randy Boissonnault (Edmonton Centre, Alta.), who is the parliamentary secretary for Canadian Heritage Minister MĂ©lanie Joly (Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Que.) and in the fall took on the additional role of the governmentâs LGBTQ2 special adviser.
âItâs my understanding that the senior staff at PMO are trying to get a deeper understanding of what all of those projects are, to see where people are and what theyâre doing, and then look at the decisions that need to be made in terms of moving people around. âŠ I think youâll see some people stay in some of their places, I think youâll see some shifting around âŠ and I think youâll see some new faces at the table,â said Bluesky Strategiesâ principal and Liberal pundit Susan Smith.
As it stands with 30Â people in cabinet (including the prime minister), 33 parliamentary secretaries, 21 Liberal committee chairs, one whip, and one speaker, that leaves 96 of the 182 Liberal MPsÂ without any additional roles.
âThe Liberals have a very deep caucus. The talent thatâs in the backbenches is very deep and I think the prime minister is blessed and cursed with lots of choice and lots of talent because there are only so many spots to go around,â said Ms. Smith.
Parliamentary secretaries receive an additional $16,600 on top of their $170,400 MP salary.
The work of a parliamentary secretary includes speaking for the minister when they are not available, both in the House of Commons and in public forÂ announcements at home, abroad, and to the media; advancing the legislative program of their minister; and acting asÂ a caucus liaison for the minister.
Typically these positions donât carry a lot of decision-making power. They are not members of cabinet, parliamentary secretaries do not attend cabinet meetings, and do not have regular access to cabinet documents.
Liberal prime minister Paul Martin did aÂ large shuffle in 2004 whenÂ aboutÂ 10 parliamentary secretariesÂ changed, and did some smaller adjustments later on. Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, over his 10 years in power, shuffled his parliamentary secretaries a handful of times, but each typically impacted a relatively smallÂ number of MPs.
Some sources cautioned against making changes for cosmetic reasons or to share the wealth rather thanÂ performance.
âWe, as a party, need to be careful with our obsession on generational change. Age and experience really do matter, and with the current headlines, it is an example of where that experience could come in handy,â said one Liberal lobbyist.
One former MP who has experience as a parliamentary secretaryÂ voiced concerns that those that could be getting moved out will suffer potential career harm unnecessarily if, as some are saying, itâs not about demoting poor performers, but rather giving others a kick at the can.
âItâs a self-inflicted wound. âŠ Regardless of how you try to spin this, the opposing political forces are going to view this as âyou arenât up to the job,â â the source said, adding that thereâs concern the PMOÂ doesnât have proper respect for caucus.
âThey got the equation wrong. If you donât win those individual seats, youâre not in government.â
However, others argued that the roster of parliamentary secretaries is a âbubbleâ concern and not something likely to win or lose an election.
Among the names being thrown around as likely to becomeÂ parliamentary secretaries areÂ Steven MacKinnon (Gatineau, Que), Marco Mendicino (Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont.), Will Amos (Pontiac, Que.), and Francis Scarpaleggia (Lac-Saint-Louis, Que.).
Others on the backbench pointed to as making good impressions are Raj Grewal (Brampton East, Ont), Ruby Sahota (Brampton North, Ont.), Sherry Romando (Longueuil-Charles-LeMoyne, Que.), and Francesco Sorbara (Vaughan-Woodbridge, Ont).
With a cabinet retreat scheduled for Calgary on Jan. 23 and 24, one source said theyâre anticipating the shuffle will happen sometime before that.
As well, The Hill Times has learned the winter Liberal caucus-wide retreat has been postponed until after the parliamentary secretary shuffle, and after the House resumes.
âThereâs just been a cabinet shuffle. Thereâs a lot of significant things on the go,â said Ms. Smith as to whether the timing is connected to the coming parliamentary secretary restructuring. She mentioned March as a possibility.
The Hill Times