It's a New Year, so it's a suitable time for a mini-shuffle of the Cabinet. The Liberal government has made some new, improved choices – with a few tortuous arrangements, too.
Stéphane Dion has done genuinely great things for Canada. This country owes him a debt of gratitude for successfully attacking the sovereignty movement's shaky intellectual foundations, and helping to keep the country together. The decision to bring him to Ottawa two decades ago was a stroke of genius. But as foreign affairs minister, he has often been unpersuasive – and his pedantic tendencies and shaky command of the English language are not the right fit for the challenge that lies ahead, namely dealing with the Trump administration.
His successor, Chrystia Freeland, gets a promotion from international trade. It's a good call. She was forceful in pushing through the difficult final stages of the CETA trade negotiations with Europe. Her political experience in Canada may be shorter than Mr. Dion's, but her international and American connections are much deeper. She speaks fluent international plutocrat; that will be indispensable in dealing with the new powers in Washington. She'll also retain part of her old portfolio, namely trade with the U.S.
As for the outgoing minister of immigration, John McCallum, sending a senior and well-respected cabinet member as ambassador to China appears to be designed to send a message of respect to Beijing. No harm in that, and possibly much good.
And then there's Maryam Monsef. A little over a year ago, the Trudeau government was not wise, let alone kind, to appoint the young, rookie MP as minister of Democratic Institutions. She was not yet 30 years old – but her inexperience was not the problem. The problem was, and still is, the lack of clarity from her older and more experienced bosses in the PMO. Do the Liberals want really want to junk first-past-the-post? How? When? Why? With what? It wasn't her fault that she spent the year smilingly defending the indefensible and clumsily explaining the unexplainable.
Her reward for her time in the lion's den is a move to Status of Women, a ministry that has a fairly clear meaning and a long history. As for her successor as Minister of Democratic Institutions – Karina Gould, also a rookie, also not yet 30 years old – she will find the job no easier, unless and until Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his advisers figure out what they want her to do.