PARLIAMENT HILLâWith the summer break coming almost halfway through the Liberal governmentâs four-year mandate, speculation of a summer cabinet shuffle is swirling, along with the possibility of a fall prorogation, and sources say it could be a chance to hit the reset button and prep the front bench for the next election in 2019.
âThis does tend to be the time [to shuffle cabinet]. Itâs the mid-way period through a governmentâs mandate, and the summer period gives everybody a time, once the House isnât sitting, to kind of collectively catch their breath, and itâs really up to the prime minister who will figure out if he thinks people are in the right positions or not,â said Greg MacEachern, senior vice-president of government relations at Environics Communications.
Along with a cabinet shuffle, the prorogation of Parliament and subsequent Throne Speech, would offer a chance for government to retune its agenda.
âWorld events have significantly changed since the swearing-in in 2015. … That may be another reason that a prorogation, new agenda, new Speech from the Throne, new mandate letters, may be advantageous,â said Mr. MacEachern.
There is âmass speculationâ that a cabinet shuffle will happen this summer, said Andrew Balfour, senior consultant with Navigator Ltd.
âTwo years into a mandate is always a good time for a reset and to begin looking forward to the next election. I donât know whoâs going to go where, but Iâd be surprised if there wasnât, at a minimum, a tweak,â Mr. Balfour said.Â âThere hasnât been a full shuffle and weâre two years in, so thatâs adding a lot of fuel to the speculation game.â
A Liberal source familiar with such deliberations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said if a shuffle happens this summer, âyou would want to do it prior to national caucusâ convening for a summer retreat, while prorogation would be likely to happen âthe Friday before the House comes back.â
âYou donât want to leave Parliament in a state of prorogation; world events are a little too fragile at the moment,â said the Liberal source.
The office of Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia (Lac-Saint-Louis, Que.), who chairs the national Liberal caucus, told The Hill Times last week that the caucusâ end-of-summer retreat is scheduled for Sept. 5-8, with the location to be announced shortly. The House, meanwhile, is scheduled to return for the fall on Sept. 18.
The Liberal source said there are two criteria likely in play for a shuffle.
âThe first would be who around the current cabinet table isnât running again âŠ if you can elevate somebody into cabinet and it might help their chances of re-election, especially some of the Quebec ridings that were four-way splits [in 2015]. That just makes a lot of sense,â said the source. âThe second would be, letâs reward whoâs moving their files,â and âshuffle out people that arenât, for whatever reason, moving their files.â
The Liberal source said it’s expected the shuffle would be relatively big, and that âthey were going to also look at moving around staff, which would underscore the notion that itâs all about ramping up performance levels.â
âIf they brought in three or four new people, Iâd consider that big,â said the source. âNew governments generally try to start with very small cabinets âŠ then as they go through their mandate. The cabinet tends to grow.â
Other Liberal sources have previously told The Hill Times 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.
Some Liberal MPs said that for a caucus of 184 MPs, a 30-member cabinet with an equal number of men and women is too small.
âWe have so many qualified MPs. Trudeau can get at least one more, if not two, well qualified cabinet ministers from this caucus,â said one Liberal MP previously.
Rumours of prorogation have been spiralling around the Hill for months. When asked about whether prorogation was on the table last Thursday, Government House Leader Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.) told The Hill Times, âI donât think thatâs a question for me,â adding that what sheâs heard from her colleagues and the prime minister is that the government wants to advance mandate commitments.
âIâm here to advance an ambitious agenda that we committed to Canadians and I will do everything that I can to work with colleagues on both sides of the House to ensure that we are delivering for Canadians,â said Ms. Chagger.
Meanwhile, last week, the government made a number of significant policy announcements, including a major address to the House by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.) on the governmentâs foreign policy priorities, and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjanâs (Vancouver South, B.C.) announcement of the results of the governmentâs defence policy review.
The Liberal source said while these âbig announcementsâ have the âkind of messaging you might find in a Throne Speech. âŠ Thereâs something about a Throne Speech that pulls it all together and lets everybody know for the next two years: ‘hereâs what direction weâre going to be pulling our oars.’ â
A second Liberal source said these significant steps seem to be about wanting substantive things in the window as soon as possible, and that âthe government is sensitive to claims it is all about the sizzle and not the steak.â
In terms of who may not run in the next election and get shuffled out, one factor could be age. Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay (Cardigan, P.E.I.) is the oldest minister, turning 71 this September, having first been elected in 1988.
Some ministers in the 30-person cabinet are juggling more than one portfolio. Ms. Chagger, as government House leader and minister for Small Business and Tourism; Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr (Winnipeg South Centre, Man.), who is interim- Public Services minister since Judy Foote (Bonavista-Burin-Trinity, N.L.) announced in April she was taking a leave of absence for family and personal reasons. Mr. Trudeau also has the titles of minister of Youth and of Intergovernmental Affairs.
Sources said Ms. Freeland, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale (Regina-Wascana, Sask.), Health Minister Jane Philpott (Markham-Stouffville, Ont.), and Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Toronto Centre, Ont.) are all strong performers likely to be safe from any cabinet swap-outsâthough one source suggested Mr. Goodale could be moved into a portfolio in need of better handling, like Defence.
Mr. Sajjan, a rookie to Parliament and to politics, is seen as having âdiminished credibilityâ after his comments about being âthe architectâ of Operation Medusa in Afghanistan in 2006, as Maclean’s magazine’sÂ John Geddes put it in a May 8 piece. Mr. Geddes wrote that Mr. Trudeauâs cabinet, âonce touted as star-studded, is badly underperformingâand the pressureâs now on to deliver.â He also highlighted Treasury Board President Scott Brison (Kings-Hants, N.S.) as being âin jeopardy of being tagged for under-delivering,â among others.
The second Liberal source said Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr’s (Calgary Centre, Alta.) office is seen as performing poorly, and that he could be shuffled elsewhere in cabinet.
Both defence and trade are becoming âimportantâ files for the government, said the first Liberal source, and a Throne Speech âwould give them the opportunity to reframe that narrative.â
One name that both sources said theyâve heard mentioned for promotion to cabinet is new Liberal MP Mary Ng (Markham-Thornhill, Ont.), the former director of appointments in the Prime Ministerâs Office. Along with being female she would add more ethnic diversity to cabinet.Â
There are a number of factors to be weighed in when shaping cabinet, from regional representation to gender and ethnic representation.
While shuffles can be a chance to reward strong players or elevate new up-and-comers, it can also be âdisruptiveâ for caucus, noted the first Liberal source, as many wonât be left satisfied.
âThis is a government thatâs committed to gender parity and ethnic parity. Itâs a cabinet that reflects the country, and theyâre not going to be knocked off that path, and thatâs not good news for some people on a personal level,â said the source.
The government is also looking at Bill C-24 as one of a host of bills it would like to see pass before the House rises. The legislation seeks to amend the Salaries Act to codify that the five ministers of state positions that this government made full cabinet ministers have full salaries and authority, and to provide salaries for three additional ministers.
When Mr. Trudeau appointed his first cabinet with gender parity in November 2015â15 women, 15 men (including Mr. Trudeau)âfive female ministers were appointed as ministers of state, traditionally junior ministers who assist full cabinet member, âto be styled asâ full ministers.
At the time, the government said those five were indeed full ministers withÂ full cabinet privileges, but were appointed as ministers of state due to laws outlining different roles in cabinet, and were receiving full salaries equal to their peers. This bill is the formal legislative change needed to institute whatâs already being done in practice.
The five portfolios that would be impacted are: La Francophonie, held by Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau (Compton-Stanstead, Que.), whoâs also responsible for International Development; Status of Women, currently held by Minister Maryam Monsef (Peterborough-Kawartha, Ont.); Sport and Disabilities, held by Minister Carla Qualtrough (Delta, B.C.); Small Business and Tourism, held by Ms. Chagger; and Science Minister Kirsty Duncanâs (Etobicoke North, Ont.) role.
The Hill Times
The Current Federal Cabinet, By Order of Precedence: