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Politics Mini cabinet shuffle looms in Ottawa ahead of bigger changes in 2018

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on June 13, 2017.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is planning a small cabinet shuffle to fill the seat that was left vacant when Newfoundland's Judy Foote took an indefinite leave of absence as minister of public works in April for personal and family reasons.

The mini-shuffle will allow the government to hold off on major changes to its ministry and its legislative agenda until 2018, when the Liberals will have finished the first half of their mandate.

Ms. Foote, the Liberal MP for the riding of Bonavista-Burin-Trinity, will not be returning to cabinet because of family and health issues, a government source said. The insider added the Prime Minister will move to ensure there is a new minister in place to represent Newfoundland and Labrador when the federal cabinet meets in St. John's in early September to map out the fall sitting of Parliament.

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Two Newfoundland MPs – Seamus O'Regan and Gudie Hutchings – are in the running to enter cabinet as part of the shuffle.

The issue of gender parity could affect the number of changes that will be required, given the cabinet is currently made up of 15 female and 14 male members, excluding Mr. Trudeau. Replacing Ms. Foote with Mr. O'Regan, for example, would tilt the balance the other way, which could lead to the promotion of another female MP into cabinet.

In addition to the small summer shuffle, Mr. Trudeau is exploring the possibility of proroguing Parliament after the fall sitting. This would lead to a Throne Speech early in the New Year, to set up the Liberal government's legislative priorities for the second half of the mandate.

The Prime Minister will only make bigger changes to his cabinet in 2018 if he feels the need to change the team that will lead his government into the 2019 general election.

"We feel ministers are doing well and in the middle of big delivery projects," the senior official said. "If there is a particular reason to move specific people into new places, we will do that. You will never see [the Prime Minister] just say, 'These people have been in their jobs long enough, it's time to move them around.'"

In addition, there is growing speculation in Ottawa that some senior officials in the government will start moving back to Liberal headquarters in late 2018 or early 2019 to prepare the party's re-election bid. A key decision for the Prime Minister will be determining whether and when his chief of staff, Katie Telford, should return to her role as the lead campaign official.

Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr has been filling in as public works minister during Ms. Foote's absence. The department is currently handling major files such as the beleaguered Phoenix pay system and stalled procurements such as the purchase of an interim fleet of Boeing fighter jets.

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The Prime Minister's Office has high regard for Mr. O'Regan, who has a Masters of Philosophy from Cambridge University and serves on the House of Commons Heritage Committee. He served as the unofficial spokesman for the committee when it recently released a report calling for increased funding and other measures to help the country's embattled media industry.

Mr. O'Regan, an openly gay politician and former host of CTV's Canada AM, is a close personal friend of Mr. Trudeau and vacationed with the Prime Minister and his family in the Bahamas last Christmas.

Last year, Mr. O'Regan underwent treatment for alcoholism and has remained sober since his release from the 40-day program.

Ms. Hutchings has also impressed the Prime Minister's Office for her political smarts and her role as parliamentary secretary for small business and tourism. She has owned fly fishing lodges and was president of the Corner Brook Chamber of Commerce before her election to Parliament in 2015.

Ms. Hutchings represents the riding of Long Range Mountains in western Newfoundland that includes her hometown of Corner Brook. Mr. O'Regan, who was born in St. John's and grew up in Goose Bay, is the MP for St. John's South-Mount Pearl.

The new Speech from the Throne will be read by Canada's next governor-general, Julie Payette, who is set to be installed in late September or early October.

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After introducing her as his pick for the job two weeks ago, Mr. Trudeau said he was in no hurry to prorogue Parliament. Instead, the Prime Minister said he wants to keep promoting measures that he has already introduced, such as the Canada Child Benefit and his tax reforms.

"We're going to continue to deliver on the commitments and the promises we made in the last election and in the Throne Speech we presented 18 months ago. Now is not the time to change from the strong approach that's delivering for Canadians, now is the time to continue on the hard work we're doing to help Canadian families," Mr. Trudeau said on July 13.

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