The government will not be creating any new departments in the wake of last week’s cabinet shuffle, Privy Council Office spokesperson Paul Duchesne has confirmed.
“Arrangements have already been put in place to ensure nimble and cost-effective support for ministers,” he said in an emailed statement.
The cabinet shuffle last week increased Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (Papineau, Que.) cabinet to a bulging 35, out of a total cap of 37. Newly minted Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair (Scarborough Southwest, Ont.) was the biggest news, while former Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly (Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Que.) was thought to be demoted to minister of tourism, official languages and la Francophonie. Pablo Rodriguez (Honoré-Mercier, Que.) takes over the heritage portfolio.
Hamilton MP Filomena Tassi (Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, Ont.) was made minister of seniors, and Dominic LeBlanc (Beauséjour, N.B.) has moved to become minister responsible for intergovernmental affairs—previously held by Mr. Trudeau—as well as the minister for northern affairs and internal trade. Mary Ng (Markham-Thornhill, Ont.) was made the small business and export promotion minister, and Jonathan Wilkinson (North Vancouver, B.C) now heads the department of fisheries and oceans.
Treasury Board President Scott Brison (Kings-Hants, N.S.) adds the minister for digital government to his title, while Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough (Delta, B.C.) adds accessibility. Kirsty Duncan is now the minister of science and sport.
The changes may seem daunting for the public service at first glance, but one former senior government official who spoke to The Hill Times on a not-for-attribution basis said that it’s simply bureaucratic business as usual.
Adding a new department “tends to be more distracting because you’re taking parts of different organizations and you’re moving them into a new department, and every department almost has its own culture,” he said.
Simply changing the reporting can “be much less destabilizing and we’ll only know this in time,” he said. Insiders expect further details to come to light in the coming weeks.
Going hand-in-hand with the new cabinet are new responsibilities for senior bureaucrats, who will lead the public service support for various ministerial roles.
Employment and Social Development confirmed July 24 that Ms. Qualtrough’s accessibility portfolio will be backed by labour deputy minister Lori Sterling, while Mr. Blair will be supported by Public Safety associate deputy minister Vincent Rigby, iPolitics reported.
Mr. Blair will be working “closely with his cabinet colleagues to ensure Canada’s borders are managed in a way that facilitates international travel and trade while protecting Canadians’ safety, security, and well-being,” said Mr. Duchesne.
“In addition, he will play an important role in coordinating efforts to reduce organized crime as well as continuing to play a leadership role in the legalization and strict regulation of cannabis,” he added.
Ms. Joly will be supported by two senior-level bureaucrats: Guylaine Roy, an associate deputy minister at Canadian Heritage, will be her right hand, iPolitics reported, while her tourism portfolio will be supported by Innovation, Science, and Economic Development’s associate deputy minister Paul Thompson. He’s also handling the small business portfolio for Ms. Ng.
Treasury Board has also stacked two new high-level bureaucrats to support Mr. Brison’s work as minister of digital government: federal chief information officer Alex Benay was promoted to a deputy minister level on July 2, while current Infrastructure associate deputy minister Yazmine Laroche will become deputy minister of public service accessibility, effective Aug. 7.
She will create a barrier-free bureaucracy, said Mr. Duchesne, while Ms. Qualtrough looks to create a barrier-free Canada.
Professional Institute of the Public Service president Debi Daviau, who represents federal IT workers, said she was pleased to see Mr. Brison’s new responsibilities, as she said he’s passionate about the transition to digital government.
“Our only concern…[is] the government’s over reliance on outsourcing of large IT projects and modernization,” she said in a July 24 interview. “We really hope he’ll take lessons learned on this front, looking at failures like [the Phoenix pay system.]”
The pay system has failed to properly pay bureaucrats since its February 2016 launch.
Ms. Duncan’s sport portfolio will continue to be handled by Andrew Campbell, the assistant deputy minister at Canadian Heritage, iPolitics reported, while science will be with David McGovern, ISED associate deputy minister.
Ms. Tassi will work out of the Department of Employment and Social Development in her role as seniors’ minister, the department confirmed. Taking the lead on the seniors portfolio will be ESDC associate deputy Benoît Robidoux. She will also be supported by ESDC deputy minister Louise Levonian and Leslie MacLean, ESDC’s senior associate deputy minister and the chief operating officer of Service Canada.
The Public Health Agency of Canada, which falls under the umbrella of the health minister, has 15 full-time equivalents dedicated to working on seniors’ health, said department spokesperson Eric Morrissette said in an emailed statement, adding it’s “premature to speculate whether or not there will be any organizational change that would impact PHAC.”
Christiane Fox, deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs and youth at the Privy Council Office, will support Mr. LeBlanc, as she did with Mr. Trudeau. The portfolio will likely stay within the PCO, said the former government official, as it has been there for several decades.
The former official said Ms. Fox’s duties shouldn’t require an expansion in staff unless “they decide to have a much more active agenda here, and they maybe want to do different things.” But Mr. Blair and Ms. Tassi, for example, will need a ministerial office, so there will be an increase in staffing there.
University of Victoria professor David Zussman, a former assistant secretary to the federal cabinet for the machinery of government and a former commissioner of the public service, among other roles, said changing ministers has “a huge impact” on departments because the new minister might have different priorities.
“It takes a huge amount of effort to get the new person trained up, informed, and then say now ‘we were doing these things under the previous minister, do you want to continue this?’ And the minister may say ‘no,’ or ‘yes,’ or ‘I have my own priorities,’” he said, adding the move energizes the bureaucracy.
Mandate letters will be public “later this summer,” said PCO spokesperson Stéphane Shank.
Prof. Zussman said they will be likely be using the Rearrangements Act to determine Mr. Blair’s specific responsibilities, for example, as well as what department responsibilities are the purview of which minister.
The Rearrangements Act allows the governor in council—or the governor general on the advice of the cabinet—to transfer powers, duties, or functions from one minister to another, from one department to another, or amalgamate any two or more departments under one deputy minister.
Generally, the government first announces changes, and then formalizes them later on, said Prof. Zussman. Both former government officials suspect the rerouting strategy was chosen due to the upcoming 2019 election.
Prof. Zussman said that the bureaucracy was probably getting early signals this week as to what the plan for movement is, and those changes will be put into place in the coming weeks.
The shuffle means that several deputy ministers will serve more than one minister, including ISED deputy minister John Knubley, who is supporting four. Government insiders told The Hill Times that most deputy ministers serve two or more ministers at least once in their career.
The experience isn’t necessarily more work, said the former official. In some cases, there could be associate or assistant deputy ministers to deal with each ministerial portfolio, which seems to be happening. Those officials generally handle more of the day-to-day issues, keeping the deputy in the loop with regular briefings, said the former official.
“It’s not unusual for any deputy to have one, two, three, four ministers that they’re reporting to,” he said, adding that he’s never heard of anyone having an issue with scheduling.
However, Prof. Zussman said deputy ministers have to be savvy if they’re serving more than one minister because there are more bosses to serve.
“It’s always a challenge. … It takes a very agile deputy minister to do that well because you’re always balancing [interests],” he said. “That’s not always easy because every minister has their own priorities.”
If one minister, on the other hand, has two departments—such as in the case of Ms. Qualtrough—the challenge is getting the minister’s time, he said.
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