PARLIAMENT HILL—With the summer break coming almost halfway through the Liberal government’s 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.
“This does tend to be the time [to shuffle cabinet]. It’s the mid-way period through a government’s mandate, and the summer period gives everybody a time, once the House isn’t sitting, to kind of collectively catch their breath, and it’s really up to the prime minister who will figure out if he thinks people are in the right positions or not,” 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.
“World 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,” said Mr. MacEachern.
There is “mass speculation” that a cabinet shuffle will happen this summer, said Andrew Balfour, senior consultant with Navigator Ltd.
“Two years into a mandate is always a good time for a reset and to begin looking forward to the next election. I don’t know who’s going to go where, but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t, at a minimum, a tweak,” Mr. Balfour said. “There hasn’t been a full shuffle and we’re two years in, so that’s adding a lot of fuel to the speculation game.”
A Liberal source familiar with such deliberations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said if a shuffle happens this summer, “you would want to do it prior to national caucus” convening for a summer retreat, while prorogation would be likely to happen “the Friday before the House comes back.”
“You don’t want to leave Parliament in a state of prorogation; world events are a little too fragile at the moment,” 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 caucus’ 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.
“The first would be who around the current cabinet table isn’t running again … 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,” said the source. “The second would be, let’s reward who’s moving their files,” and “shuffle out people that aren’t, for whatever reason, moving their files.”
The Liberal source said it’s expected the shuffle would be relatively big, and that “they were going to also look at moving around staff, which would underscore the notion that it’s all about ramping up performance levels.”
“If they brought in three or four new people, I’d consider that big,” said the source. “New governments generally try to start with very small cabinets … then as they go through their mandate. The cabinet tends to grow.”
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.
“We have so many qualified MPs. Trudeau can get at least one more, if not two, well qualified cabinet ministers from this caucus,” 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, “I don’t think that’s a question for me,” adding that what she’s heard from her colleagues and the prime minister is that the government wants to advance mandate commitments.
“I’m 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,” 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 government’s foreign policy priorities, and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s (Vancouver South, B.C.) announcement of the results of the government’s defence policy review.
The Liberal source said while these “big announcements” have the “kind of messaging you might find in a Throne Speech. … There’s something about a Throne Speech that pulls it all together and lets everybody know for the next two years: ‘here’s what direction we’re going to be pulling our oars.’ ”
A second Liberal source said these significant steps seem to be about wanting substantive things in the window as soon as possible, and that “the government is sensitive to claims it is all about the sizzle and not the steak.”
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-outs—though 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 “diminished credibility” after his comments about being “the architect” of Operation Medusa in Afghanistan in 2006, as Maclean’s magazine’s John Geddes put it in a May 8 piece. Mr. Geddes wrote that Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet, “once touted as star-studded, is badly underperforming—and the pressure’s now on to deliver.” He also highlighted Treasury Board President Scott Brison (Kings-Hants, N.S.) as being “in jeopardy of being tagged for under-delivering,” 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 “important” files for the government, said the first Liberal source, and a Throne Speech “would give them the opportunity to reframe that narrative.”
One name that both sources said they’ve heard mentioned for promotion to cabinet is new Liberal MP Mary Ng (Markham-Thornhill, Ont.), the former director of appointments in the Prime Minister’s Office. Along with being female she would add more ethnic diversity to cabinet.
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 “disruptive” for caucus, noted the first Liberal source, as many won’t be left satisfied.
“This is a government that’s committed to gender parity and ethnic parity. It’s a cabinet that reflects the country, and they’re not going to be knocked off that path, and that’s not good news for some people on a personal level,” 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 2015—15 women, 15 men (including Mr. Trudeau)—five female ministers were appointed as ministers of state, traditionally junior ministers who assist full cabinet member, “to be styled as” full ministers.
At the time, the government said those five were indeed full ministers with 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 what’s already being done in practice.
The five portfolios that would be impacted are: La Francophonie, held by Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau (Compton-Stanstead, Que.), who’s 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 Duncan’s (Etobicoke North, Ont.) role.
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