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PM overhauls cabinet with major moves in environment, defence, health portfolios

October 27, 2021
The Canadian Press

By Joan Bryden

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau asserted Tuesday that he intends to lead the Liberals the next time Canadians head to the polls, as he undertook a major cabinet overhaul aimed at rapidly delivering on his top priorities during his third term as prime minister.

There were nine new faces in the slightly larger cabinet roster. Three previous members were dropped from cabinet and most other senior ministers were moved to new posts.

Trudeau sought to put to rest speculation that he’s focused on creating a legacy for himself before exiting the political fray ahead of the next election.

Asked if he intends to lead the Liberals in the next election, he answered simply and categorically: “Yes.”


Trudeau indicated that the massive shakeup in his cabinet, coming a month after Canadians returned the Liberals with a second minority government, is aimed at accomplishing big things in what could be a relatively short period of time before the next election.

“I think one of the things we saw very clearly in this election was that Canadians are expecting big things to be done by Parliament and this government,” he said, citing accelerated action on climate change, reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and rebuilding a greener, more equitable and inclusive pandemic-battered economy.

“These are no small tasks. These are the things that Canadians expect us to do and, with a refreshed and reinvigorated team around me, I’m really excited about what we’re going to be able to accomplish for Canadians. And I know this team is raring to go.”

In one of the biggest moves, Harjit Sajjan, heavily criticized for his handling of sexual misconduct allegations in Canada’s military, was moved out of the defence portfolio to take up a new post in international development.

Anita Anand, who led the charge to procure COVID-19 vaccines during the pandemic as public services and procurement minister, will take over at the problem-plagued Department of National Defence, only the second woman to head that post.

Steven Guilbeault, a prominent environmentalist in Quebec before jumping into politics in 2019, is leaving Canadian Heritage to take over the environment portfolio from Jonathan Wilkinson, who is moving to Natural Resources.

Jean-Yves Duclos moves from head of the Treasury Board to the health portfolio.

In probably the biggest promotion of the day, Melanie Joly, formerly economic development minister and co-chair of the Liberals’ election campaign last month, was named foreign affairs minister. She becomes the fifth foreign affairs minister since Trudeau took office six years ago.

She replaces Marc Garneau, who was dropped from cabinet. So were Bardish Chagger, who had been diversity and inclusion minister, and Jim Carr, who had been serving as Trudeau’s special representative for the Prairies after being diagnosed with cancer.

Trudeau did not explain why those three were dumped, other than to say: “Everyone knows that cabinet making requires difficult choices, bringing forward people who’ve served, giving new challenges to folks who haven’t and looking at the right balance of regional, diversity, experiences to deliver.”

He did not rule out finding other roles for the dropped ministers. He did not give a direct response when asked about speculation that Garneau will be appointed as an ambassador to Paris.

Among the new faces at the cabinet table are former broadcaster and Toronto MP Marci Ien, who becomes gender equality minister; Nova Scotia MP Sean Fraser, who takes on the immigration post; Edmonton MP Randy Boissonnault, who joins as tourism and associate finance minister, and newly elected Quebec MP and former union leader Pascale St-Onge, who becomes minister for sport and Quebec economic development.

Mark Holland, who had served as Liberal whip, will join cabinet as the new government House leader. With the Liberals holding only a minority of seats in the House of Commons, Holland’s job will be crucial, ensuring the government has at least one opposition party to support its legislation and to avoid defeat on confidence votes.

The previous House leader, Pablo Rodriguez, who steered the agenda through the Liberals’ last minority government, will head up Canadian Heritage, a post he previously held during Trudeau’s first mandate.

Only 10 ministers in Trudeau’s last cabinet are staying put, including Justice Minister David Lametti, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough and Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.

Trudeau had announced earlier that Chrystia Freeland would remain in her dual roles as deputy prime minister and finance minister.

The new roster totals 39 ministers, including Trudeau — two more than his last cabinet. It maintains Trudeau’s commitment to appoint an equal number of men and women to cabinet.

Trudeau had also promised a regionally balanced cabinet but is likely to face some criticism on that front.

He boosted the number of ministers from the four Atlantic provinces to six, including two each from New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador, despite the Liberals losing a handful of seats in the region in the election.

The four western provinces still have six ministers, despite delivering more seats to the Liberals last month. That includes four from British Columbia, one from Alberta, one from Manitoba and none from Saskatchewan which elected no Liberals.

Quebec has 10 ministers, plus the prime minister, and they’re in charge of some of the most important and powerful portfolios: foreign affairs, justice, environment, health, heritage and Crown-Indigenous relations.

Ontario has 16 ministers, including the most powerful minister of all — Freeland — and four newcomers from vote-rich Toronto and surrounding suburbs.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole dismissed the new lineup as a collection of “largely inexperienced and ideologically driven individuals who represent a real risk to our economic prosperity and our national unity.”

“With inflation at a near 20-year high, causing gasoline, grocery and housing prices to skyrocket, and businesses suffering from major supply-chain interruptions, it is clear from today’s appointments that the Trudeau government is not serious about addressing Canada’s economic challenges,” he said in a written statement.

Trudeau has created a number of new ministries, including carving out housing as a separate portfolio, to be headed by former social development minister Ahmed Hussen.

He’s created a new stand-alone rural economic development post, to be headed by Newfoundland and Labrador MP Gudie Hutchings, who was promoted from the Liberal backbench. That file was previously overseen by former gender equality minister Maryam Monsef, who lost her seat in the Sept. 20 election.

Emergency preparedness has been carved out as a separate ministry, to be headed by Bill Blair, who also becomes president of the Queen’s Privy Council. Marco Mendicino leaves Immigration to take over Blair’s previous role at Public Safety.

Trudeau has also created a separate ministry of mental health and addictions, to be headed by Carolyn Bennett.

Marc Miller is taking up Bennett’s former post at Crown-Indigenous Relations, while former health minister Patty Hajdu takes over from Miller at Indigenous Services.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, whose party had called for Sajjan and Bennett to be dumped from cabinet, was skeptical that shuffling new ministers into Defence and Crown-Indigenous Relations will make any real difference to the government’s failure to create an independent process for investigating sexual misconduct allegations in the military or its court fight against compensation ordered for Indigenous families harmed by the child-welfare system.

Singh laid the blame for those failures on Trudeau, whom he noted remains the prime minister and chief decision-maker.

The ministers will have almost a month to settle into their new roles before Parliament returns on Nov. 22.

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