Cabinet shuffles can be delicate affairs for any prime minister. But for Justin Trudeau, there is an added layer of complexity given that diversity and inclusiveness are the stated trademarks of his government. Demoting one minister to promote another risks upsetting the fine balance the feminist Prime Minister has sought to cultivate since declaring “because it’s 2015” in 2015.
A little more than a year before the 2019 federal election, however, Mr. Trudeau has less room for error than he did at the outset of his mandate. While Wednesday’s cabinet shuffle adheres to the gender-parity principle the Prime Minister implemented in 2015, it was hard not to notice the parade of men called on to clean up the messes others could not. By drawing attention to the diversity of his cabinet in 2015, he automatically forces us to take note when he deviates from his own script.
Replacing Mélanie Joly with Pablo Rodriguez at Canadian Heritage relegates a once rising star to a minor portfolio (Ms. Joly takes on Tourism, Official Languages and la Francophonie) while turning to a seasoned Liberal party organizer to handle the politically-sensitive culture file. It’s a blow to the sisterhood, but a move Mr. Trudeau felt obliged to make given Ms. Joly’s uneven performance. Ms. Joly might have been a fresh face in 2015, but the political novice was clearly not ready for the complex task Mr. Trudeau assigned her.
Mr. Rodriguez is a veteran of federal Liberal politics in Quebec. Born in Argentina, the trilingual 51-year-old Montreal MP is tasked with regaining the confidence of the cultural elite whom Ms. Joly alienated with an incoherent policy, dubbed Creative Canada. That policy punted the heavy lifting (overhauling the outdated federal Broadcasting Act, for example) while showing how little leverage Ms. Joly held at the cabinet table, where the Finance Minister’s refusal to implement sales taxes on foreign online streaming services won the day.
If not in numbers, at least in power, Quebec was underrepresented in Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet before Wednesday’s shuffle and remains so after it. That will not go unnoticed in a province the Liberals need to win in 2019 and where they recently lost a by-election to Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives.
Mr. Trudeau’s A-team, which remains unchanged, is made up entirely of unilingual anglophone or semi-bilingual non-Quebeckers with Bill Morneau at Finance, Chrystia Freeland at Foreign Affairs, Ralph Goodale at Public Safety, Jane Philpott at Indigenous Services and Jody Wilson-Raybould at Justice. All of them are competent and there is no reason to move them. But the absence of francophone Quebeckers in the most powerful portfolios is a Liberal weakness heading into 2019.
François-Philippe Champagne’s move to Infrastructure from International Trade might seem like a lateral move if not a demotion, given that Mr. Trudeau has handed responsibility for seeking out new export markets to Manitoba MP Jim Carr. The latter becomes Minister of International Trade Diversification. But Mr. Champagne had been so overshadowed by Ms. Freeland and the Prime Minister’s Office on the trade file, that his move to Infrastructure looks like a minor promotion.
While Toronto MP Ahmed Hussen retains the Immigration portfolio, his failure to address unease in Ontario and Quebec regarding the flow of asylum seekers across the U.S. border into Canada forced Mr. Trudeau to call on another Toronto MP, Bill Blair.
The former Toronto police chief will take on a new portfolio as Minister of the very un-Liberal-sounding Border Crossing and Organized Crime Reduction. The move shows the government understands a course correction is needed.
Mr. Blair is better equipped than the soft-spoken Mr. Hussen to counter populist Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s rhetoric on asylum seekers. But Mr. Blair’s inability to speak French will hamper the government’s efforts to get on top of this file in Quebec, which remains the point of entry for the vast majority of asylum seekers. At their Quebec press conferences, Mr. Hussen and Mr. Goodale had to be accompanied by Transport Minister Marc Garneau to field questions in French, an irritant for francophone reporters. It will be the same for Mr. Blair.
So, this shuffle won’t get great reviews in Quebec. And it may not matter in 2019 if the Tories can’t extend their appeal beyond the 15 or so Quebec ridings they are now targeting, if the New Democratic Party under Jagmeet Singh continues to slide and the Bloc Québécois fades away.
Still, French Power is decidedly not on this Trudeau’s script.