Trudeau cabinet shuffle brings new faces, several changes for run-up to 2019 campaign

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to bring in fresh faces, as well as keep the most trusted members of his team rooted in place, as he shuffles the Liberal cabinet this morning to prepare for next year’s election.

Today’s cabinet shuffle also gives Trudeau a chance to plump up the number of ministers by adding new portfolios, reward strong performance and potentially boost electoral fortunes in key ridings.

One person on the move will be Dominic LeBlanc. CBC News has confirmed he will leave the department of Fisheries and Oceans for Intergovernmental Affairs.

It’s a portfolio that could see a fair bit of action with a new premier in Ontario, elections on the horizon in New Brunswick, Quebec and Alberta, along with simmering disputes over pipelines, carbon taxes and interprovincial trade.

Mary Ng, a former staffer in Trudeau’s office who was recently elected in a Markham-Thornhill byelection, and Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief who has been the government’s point man on the marijuana legalization issue, have also arrived at Rideau Hall, along with Hamilton-area MP Filomena Tassi. 

CBC News will have special live coverage of the cabinet shuffle that will be hosted by Vassy Kapelos of Power & Politics beginning at 9:30 a.m. ET here at and on CBC News Network, Facebook and YouTube.

Mélanie Joly, who has served as heritage minister, and François-Philippe Champagne, who has been trade minister, and Jim Carr, who has served as natural resources minister and Amarjeet Sohi, who has been infrastructure minister, have already arrived at Rideau Hall to attend the ceremony, which begins at 10 a.m. ET with Gov. Gen. Julie Payette.

Carla Qualtrough, who as minister of public services and procurement has handled the contentious Phoenix pay system file, has also arrived at Rideau Hall.

The timing gives Trudeau an opportunity to put his best players on the pitch before the campaign, said David Moscrop, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University. With no significant scandals or major blunders raging, it makes sense for the prime minister to keep key ministers in place while lightly demoting underperformers and promoting up-and-comers.

“My sense is that, historically speaking, this is more of a tune-up than an engine replacement,” Moscrop said.

If Trudeau opts to expand the cabinet, his selection of new ministers could give credibility and prominence to MPs in vulnerable ridings ahead of the October 2019 race.

“Strategically speaking, as a government ahead of an election, I can’t see any downside unless somebody screws up. I suppose there’s always a risk that someone’s going to disgrace themselves,” he said.

Hehr replacement

One appointment could fill the vacancy left by ousted minister Kent Hehr. Kirsty Duncan, who has served as science minister since the 2015 election, took over the portfolios of sport and persons with disabilities after Hehr was forced to resign from cabinet over harassment allegations.

Hehr has since been permanently removed from cabinet but remains in the Liberal caucus.

There are currently 30 members of cabinet, including Trudeau, evenly split by gender. That parity is expected to remain, with regional representation and performance also factoring in to the prime minister’s picks.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, seen here at the cabinet retreat in London, Ont., in January, will have some new faces and ministers will have some new responsibilities with today’s cabinet shuffle. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Most — if not all — of the current ministers are expected to seek re-election. With that in mind, Trudeau is not expected to shuffle top ministers in key files, including those involved in Canada-U.S. relations, such as Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. 

Timed with election

University of Toronto political scientist Nelson Wiseman compared the shuffle to applying a fresh coat of paint on a room.

“It’s not uncommon for governments to do this at this point, because if they start shuffling too close to an election day, the closer it gets, the more they get exposed to the charge they’re admitting things aren’t going well,” he said. “You’re really now desperate, you’re splashing the paint around too loosely.”

It has become common practice for an incoming government to shrink the size of cabinet to project an image of saving money and controlling bureaucracy, Wiseman said, then to expand it closer to an election for political advantage.

Trudeau’s first major cabinet shakeup was on Jan. 10, 2017, when he appointed Freeland to foreign affairs as part of a strategy to bolster the front-line ministers who deal with the Trump administration. As part of that overhaul, veteran ministers John McCallum and Stéphane Dion were left out of the circle and instead offered diplomatic posts.

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