Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named veteran Liberal MP Joyce Murray the new President of the Treasury Board on Monday, filling the vacancy left by former cabinet minister Jane Philpott, who resigned earlier this month over the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Monday’s mini cabinet shuffle marked the third time Mr. Trudeau has made changes to his ministry in three months. Ms. Murray, first elected to Parliament in 2008 as the MP for Vancouver Quadra, was previously the parliamentary secretary to the Treasury Board President and the Minister of Digital Government – the dual portfolio she will now oversee as minister. She ran against Mr. Trudeau for the Liberal Party leadership in 2013.
The cabinet shuffle comes as MPs return to Ottawa after two weeks in their ridings, and a day before the Liberal government tables its federal budget.
Ms. Murray succeeds Ms. Philpott, who resigned as Treasury Board president earlier this month over concerns about the pressure put on former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould to shelve the criminal prosecution of Montreal-based construction and engineering giant SNC-Lavalin. Ms. Murray acknowledged the recent challenges the government has faced, but said she is fully confident in the Prime Minister.
“It has been a challenging few weeks and the Prime Minister has acknowledged that he could do better and we could do better as a team in terms of good communication, that there was a communication breakdown,” Ms. Murray told reporters after the cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall Monday morning.
Ms. Philpott quit Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet on March 4. She said she had lost confidence in how the Trudeau government had handled the SNC-Lavalin affair.
“I have been considering the events that have shaken the federal government in recent weeks and after serious reflection, I have concluded that I must resign as a member of cabinet,” Ms. Philpott said in her resignation letter to the Prime Minister.
Ms. Philpott’s resignation came only days after Mr. Trudeau shuffled his cabinet on March 1 to compensate for the February resignation of Ms. Wilson-Raybould. The former justice minister and attorney-general quit cabinet on Feb. 12, five days after The Globe and Mail reported that officials in the Prime Minister’s Office had put pressure on her to reach a negotiated settlement with SNC-Lavalin on criminal charges the company faces over its business dealings in Libya.
The company had been lobbying officials in Ottawa to secure a “deferred prosecution agreement," under which it would accept responsibility for the wrongdoing and pay a financial penalty, relinquish benefits gained from the wrongdoing and put in place compliance measures.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould was demoted to the Veterans Affairs ministerial post in January, 2019 (before the SNC-Lavalin story came out), filling a cabinet vacancy created by the departure from politics of Scott Brison. David Lametti, new to the cabinet table, was promoted to Justice.
In dramatic televised testimony before the House of Commons justice committee last month, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said she believed she was demoted because she would not do what the Prime Minister wanted to help SNC-Lavalin. She alleged “consistent and sustained” political pressure from Mr. Trudeau and other senior officials to defer the criminal prosecution of the company.
In the fallout of Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from cabinet, Mr. Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, also stepped down.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion has launched an inquiry.
Asked whether she would like to hear from anyone else, including Ms. Wilson-Raybould, on the SNC-Lavalin affair, Ms. Murray said she does not. She said she is glad Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott decided to remain in the Liberal caucus.
Ms. Murray joins the cabinet table opposing a key part of the Liberal government’s agenda: the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline. She stood by her position on the controversial pipeline expansion project Monday.
“My job as a member of Parliament actually is to represent my community and I did that on the issue of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. And it’s the job of the cabinet and the Prime Minister to make a decision that is in the interest of all Canadians. And that’s what they did,” Ms. Murray said.
With reports from Robert Fife and Steven Chase