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Transport Minister Marc Garneau answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian WyldThe Canadian Press


By Robert Fife (@RobertFife), Ottawa bureau chief

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has given additional duties to Transport Minister Marc Garneau, naming the former astronaut chair of the cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations.

The position had been held by Chrystia Freeland who became Canada's top diplomat in Tuesday's cabinet shuffle. Her new role includes total control over stickhandling incoming president-elect Donald Trump's America-first trade policy, including renegotiation of the North American free trade deal.

"With regards to Minister Garneau, he's performed very well in cabinet committees over the first year. In addition, his experience in the military, as well as obviously with NASA, made him an ideal choice to be the chair of the committee," Mr. Trudeau's communications director Kate Purchase told The Globe and Mail.

The new role for Mr. Garneau will allow him to help play a role in promoting Canada in the United States. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale remains vice-chairman.

"I am very honoured to have been chosen to chair the Canada-U.S. cabinet committee. The U.S. is our closest partner and ally, and I look forward to working with my cabinet colleagues and with the new administration in Washington to advance our strong and prosperous partnership," Mr. Garneau said in a statement.

The big surprise is the removal of Natural Resources Minister James Carr, especially since Mr. Trump has promised to quickly approve the Keystone pipeline that was rejected by the Obama administration. Energy issues are also likely to be a key factor in relations with the pro-oil Trump administration and Republican-dominated Congress.

Mr. Carr also has responsibility for the forestry sector, which is facing the threat of renewed tariffs in the United States, and may have to find ways to adjust to the loss of important American markets. Any government assistance will have to avoid further American penalties.

All three new ministers – International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould – were also named to sit on the U.S. cabinet committee.


> Finance Minister Bill Morneau meets with private-sector economists on Friday, setting the table for a budget that might be earlier than usual this year. The federal government has done a series of focus groups in advance of the budget, which show that they are testing the appetite on carbon pricing, airport privatization and a Netflix tax, among other things.

> The Prime Minister's campaign-style tour across the country, which begins this week, will be collecting valuable voter information as it goes.

> Outgoing U.S. ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman, says the incoming Trump administration doesn't really want to talk to him.

> Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister plans to continue spending up to two months a year in Costa Rica on working vacations, without access to e-mail. His office says he will fly home to Canada if he's needed. "The Premier prefers face-to-face communication or phone to e-mail correspondence and always aims to ensure that the urgent does not overtake the important," his office explained.

> Nick Kouvalis, campaign manager to Conservative candidate Kellie Leitch, says he is deliberately spreading false news on Twitter to ferret out "people who aren't real Conservatives."

> BuzzFeed Canada spoke to 11 Muslim Canadians about the "Canadian values" debate going on in the Conservative leadership race. "I'm afraid that in their attempt to set strict parameters, politicians will really end up othering large groups of people and alienating citizens who don't fit a rigid ideal of what the average white Canadian thinks everyone should be like," Huda Sadoon said.

> And The Globe's public editor has ruled: it is entirely appropriate to call a transition from Minister of Democratic Institutions to Minister for Status of Women a "demotion."


Konrad Yakabuski (Globe and Mail): "Much will hinge on the relationship Ms. Freeland develops with Rex Tillerson, provided the former ExxonMobil chief executive is confirmed as Mr. Trump's secretary of state. Mr. Tillerson is no stranger to Davos. But he also showed up last year at Mr. Putin's St. Petersburg Economic Forum, in defiance of the Obama Administration and U.S. sanctions on Russia. At Exxon, he pursued close ties with Mr. Putin and the head of Russia's state-controlled oil giant, Rosneft."

Yves Boisvert (Globe and Mail): "Whatever the motives, this leaves Mr. Trudeau with a very light Quebec cabinet. Except for Transport Minister Marc Garneau, all others have very little experience or junior portfolios. As visible as she may be on social media, Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly is not an influential voice in Ottawa. Being a Montreal MP, the Prime Minister has decided he does not need a Quebec lieutenant, as his predecessors did. Even Stephen Harper had a close ally in Quebec, and he had to draw from a smaller pool of of talent."

Brandon Ambrosino (Globe and Mail): "I've been trying to understand a reason why Buzzfeed would break almost every journalistic standard to publish this story. Then it hit me: In the new digital media landscape, sites such as Buzzfeed don't see their primary job as writing ethical stories, but as producing content. In publishing this rumour, Buzzfeed did its job."

Colby Cosh (National Post): "[Maryam Monsef] is still in [cabinet], yet the wondering has dwindled for now. In fact, there seems to be agreement that she was given an impossible job by the Prime Minister after the Liberals swore to eliminate first-past-the-post federal elections during their first term. Does this then reflect on him, or on his campaign braintrust? Is anyone to blame for the state of the electoral reform discussion? The responsibility seems to have just evaporated, doing transitory injury, at worst, to any individual's reputation."

Robyn Urback (CBC): "Above all, let's remember that this was just a Trudeau family vacation; there was nothing political about it. OK, so the president of the Liberal Party of Canada and Liberal MP Seamus O'Regan and his husband went too — a detail revealed only after further media pressure — but those guys are kind of like family also, no? They likewise care deeply about Canada's middle class and surely saw this as another opportunity to join in the conversation."

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Written by Chris Hannay.

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