He’s known around Parliament Hill as a shrewd political communicator with a jocular side, not to mention the fact that he’s one of Justin Trudeau’s oldest friends.
Now, Dominic LeBlanc is taking over one of the Prime Minister’s own posts as the new Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, at a critical time in federal-provincial relations.
Experienced, confident and well-liked – although he’s proved to be unafraid of a political tussle – Mr. LeBlanc will be in charge of advancing the Trudeau agenda in the face of growing provincial opposition from Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the looming threat of United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney in Alberta.
It is a task Mr. LeBlanc, a 50-year-old trained lawyer who has been a New Brunswick MP for 18 years, seems to relish, even referred to by Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt on Wednesday as a “Tory whisperer” – although she also called him tough and “extremely partisan,” too.
“That sounds like a compliment, I guess,” Mr. LeBlanc said in an interview on Wednesday. “There are people with whom I’ve developed, I think, very positive personal relationships in other parties.”
Mr. LeBlanc will work with the Prime Minister’s Office on contentious provincial files such as the carbon-tax dispute with Ontario and Saskatchewan.
The former Liberal House leader and federal fisheries minister, who will also be in charge of Northern Affairs and Internal Trade, said he looks forward to working with Mr. Trudeau, who he has known since childhood and whom Mr. LeBlanc used to babysit. Mr. LeBlanc’s father, Romeo LeBlanc, served in Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet and went on to become a senator and governor-general.
“I’ve known [Mr. Trudeau] a long time. I think I have an appreciation of how he wants us to implement priorities," Mr. LeBlanc said.
Mr. LeBlanc said he was given clear direction from the Prime Minister to work with the provinces and territories to execute the Liberal government’s agenda before the 2019 federal election.
“Where there are areas of disagreement and where there are policy differences, I think it’s still important for our government to be able to achieve what we committed to Canadians,” Mr. LeBlanc said.
“I think people should assume that we intend to pursue, firmly, our agenda.”
Mr. LeBlanc, who said he’s never met Mr. Ford in person, said he hopes to work “constructively” with the Ontario Premier, noting that Mr. Ford wants to focus on the economy.
“That's a priority for our government. So there'll be a lot more, I think, that we have in common than we may disagree on,” he said.
Asked about a provincial court challenge to the federal carbon tax, Mr. LeBlanc replied, “I probably won't argue the case myself before the court, if that's what you're asking.”
“People are entitled to tell their story to a court. That doesn’t detract us from the important work that we want to do for Canadians, and there’s no doubt that tackling and combatting climate change is a priority for our government and it’s a priority for Canadians,” he said.
Mr. LeBlanc said he is now in total remission after an April diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
On Thursday night, he’ll join New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant and the country’s other premiers at a reception for this week’s Council of the Federation meeting in the province.
But Mr. LeBlanc said the invitation was issued before he was handed the new portfolio on Wednesday.
“I’m certainly going to take advantage of the invitation now, just to at least formally say hi,” Mr. LeBlanc said.