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Liberals buzzing about a summer cabinet shuffle, fall Throne Speech

By Abbas Rana      

The eventual winner of the Conservative leadership and the Trump presidency are among the factors that could affect changes to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet this summer, Liberals say.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured in this file photo, could shuffle his cabinet this summer, Liberal MPs told The Hill Times. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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PARLIAMENT HILL—Government backbenchers say Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could conduct a major cabinet shuffle this summer followed by a Throne Speech in the fall as Liberals approach the midpoint of their four-year mandate before the next federal election in 2019 and after the Conservatives elect their new leader in May.

“You’re halfway through the mandate. You move around some ministers and give them enough time to study their new portfolios,” said one Liberal MP, who spoke to The Hill Times on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the subject. The Hill Times spoke to 12 Liberal MPs and an overwhelming majority of these MPs said they have heard about a summer cabinet shuffle.

Liberal MPs told The Hill Times that the result of the Conservative Party’s leadership race is seen as key to whether there will be a cabinet shuffle.

“It depends who they [Conservative] elect, I guess. Based on who they elect, we can predict or forecast what the priorities of the new leader are going to be. It would help the prime minister in making changes to his cabinet,” this Liberal MP said.

The Conservatives will elect their new leader on May 27 who will then put together a shadow cabinet in the weeks that follow. Depending on who is elected, if the new leader has a seat in the House, it will mark the first time that the Trudeau cabinet has had to face the Conservative leader who will challenge the Liberals in the next election.

The NDP is also in the midst of a leadership race and will elect its new leader by Oct. 29. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair (Outremont, Que.) is expected to stay on the job until then.

How Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) approaches a possible cabinet shuffle and new Throne Speech will depend on who the new Conservative leader is and who’s in the shadow cabinet, said Liberals.

The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

The Liberal caucus is buzzing with speculation about a summer caucus shuffle and a new Throne Speech prior to the start of the fall sitting of Parliament. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

For example, if businessman Kevin O’Leary is Conservative leader, Mr. Trudeau would have to shore up his economic management team, some said.

“I could see a Throne Speech [and cabinet shuffle] being influenced by who the Tories elect. If they elect someone on the far right, social conservative, the Tories will be very aggressive in going after that stuff,” another Liberal source told The Hill Times.

“If a guy like O’Leary wins, you’ve got to shore up your economic credentials. That’s what he’s going to go after. The good news for the Liberals is that they’ll know by then which flank they want to shore up or defend.”

If Conservative MP Maxime Bernier (Beauce, Que.) wins the Conservative leadership, Mr. Trudeau might have to boost the presence of Quebec in the cabinet, the Liberal source said. In the 2011 election, the Liberals won only seven seats in Quebec, but in the last election they won 40 out of the 78 seats in the province. Currently, the Trudeau cabinet has six cabinet ministers from Quebec, excluding the prime minister.

“Bernier could also put pressure on the Quebec seats,” the source said. “They might have to shuffle in another MP from Quebec just to show Quebec is getting a fair share.”

The Prime Minister’s Office declined a comment for this article.

Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Man.), parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, said he had not heard any speculation and did not know if a shuffle or a new Throne Speech was in the cards prior to the start of the fall sitting. He said, in his view, no change in cabinet or new Throne Speech were needed.

“News to me. I haven’t heard anything at all,” said Mr. Lamoureux.

“I think the focus from day one is Canada’s middle class and investing in infrastructure. I’m quite content with that, personally. But, there’re some circles that are higher than me, and who knows what it is that they’re thinking.”

Liberal MP Kevin Laoureux says he hasn’t heard if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to shuffle his cabinet. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Rookie Liberal MP Kim Rudd (Northumberland-Peterborough South, Ont.) said she doesn’t know if the prime minister has any plans to shuffle his cabinet.

After the U.S. presidential election yielded the stunning win of Donald Trump, Mr. Trudeau shuffled his cabinet in January to adjust relations with Canada’s largest trading partner.

Another factor in this shuffle was to address the electoral reform issue, a political headache for the Trudeau government that was attracting negative headlines for months. In the Liberal Party’s election platform, Mr. Trudeau promised that the 2015 election would be the last one under the first-past-the- post system, but early this year he abandoned the commitment.

In the January shuffle, two veterans—Foreign Affairs minister Stéphane Dion and Immigration minister John McCallum—were shuffled out and given senior diplomatic appointments. Mr. Dion was unhappy with the move, but in the end accepted the position of being Canada’s ambassador to EU and Germany. Mr. McCallum was appointed as Canada’s ambassador to China.

In Mr. Dion’s place, the prime minster appointed former International Trade minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.) to Foreign Affairs. In this position, the former journalist will oversee the Canada-U.S. trade file, which includes trade irritants such as the ongoing softwood lumber dispute, the possible renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and bilateral trade. In the past, such trade issues came under the purview of the International Trade minister.

Ms. Freeland will also be dealing with the future of NATO under the Trump administration.

Other changes include appointing François-Philippe Champagne (Saint-Maurice-Champlain, Que.) as the new Trade minister, Ahmed Hussen (York South-Weston, Ont.) as Immigration minister, and Karina Gould (Burlington, Ont.) as Democratic Institutions minister.

In the shuffle, Mr. Trudeau also dropped Employment, Workforce Development and Labour minister MaryAnn Mihychuk (Kildonan-St. Paul, Man.) from cabinet. As well, he promoted former Status of Women minister Patricia Hajdu (Thunder Bay-Superior North, Ont.) to Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, and named former Democratic Institutions minister Maryam Monsef (Peterborough-Kawartha, Ont.) the new Status of Women minister.

In not-for-attribution based interviews, some Liberal MPs refused to call it a “shuffle” and instead called it an “adjustment.”

“It was aimed to address one specific issue: Donald Trump’s unexpected election win and how to keep a cordial, professional, and respectful trade relationship between the two countries,” said another Liberal MP.

Prior to the January shuffle, Mr. Trudeau made minor adjustments to his cabinet, such as adding the role of government House leader to Small Business Minister Bardish Chagger’s (Waterloo, Ont.) duties in August. In May, Mr. Trudeau gave a second portfolio of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to then government House leader Dominic LeBlanc (Beauséjour, N.B.) after Hunter Tootoo’s (Nunavut) resignation from the Liberal caucus and cabinet for having an inappropriate relationship with a young female staffer. Now, Mr. LeBlanc only has the Fisheries portfolio.

With the Liberals reaching the halfway point of their mandate this fall, sources told The Hill Times it will be time to “take stock of what’s going well, what’s not, and then reset the agenda.”

These sources said that the summer parliamentary recess would be the best time for the shuffle and a new Throne Speech. This will give new ministers time to prepare and get ready for the fall sitting.

It remains to be seen if the prime minister will keep the size of his cabinet to the current 30 or expand it. Some Liberal MPs feel that for a caucus of 184 MPs, a 30-member cabinet with an equal number of men and women is too small.

“We have so many qualified MPs. Trudeau can get at least one more, if not two, well qualified cabinet ministers from this caucus,” said a third Liberal MP.

Liberal sources said that after about two years in power and having seen the performance of the cabinet ministers, some rookie MPs and incumbent MPs feel they’re more qualified and could do a better job than some of the current ministers in the cabinet.

“One key political headache for any prime minister is to keep the caucus happy, especially when you have 184 MPs and almost all consider themselves to be cabinet material,” said a fourth Liberal MP. “So, I guess the summer shuffle will be the first real shuffle and Trudeau will attempt to achieve that balance.”

Liberal sources also said that Mr. Trump’s policies in the U.S. could also be a factor in making changes to the Trudeau government’s priorities, which could be a factor in a new Throne Speech. They said that, by August, Mr. Trudeau would have a better idea about the new U.S. president’s policies and direction related to trade and other issues that could affect Canada.

Should the prime minister decide to shuffle his cabinet, Liberal sources said, Mr. Trudeau would be consulting his current cabinet and caucus members to find out who is not planning to run in the next election. Liberal sources said this is a “bit early” to ask this question, but in this era of permanent campaigns, it is “pertinent.”

arana@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

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