Justin Trudeau has a window of stable minority government to get things done – and now he needs an 18-month cabinet to do them.
He has to fix some chronic problems, so he is expected to move Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan out of the post to make way for a new minister who will be mandated to drive a more forceful culture change in a military that has seen a running series of sexual-misconduct investigations of its senior officers.
But when he shuffles his cabinet Tuesday, the Prime Minister also needs ministers who can push his third-term priorities quickly. The Liberals figure they have a minority government that is likely to be stable for perhaps two years, because no party can risk pushing for an election. But then things will be uncertain.
That means they can only really count on about 18 months to push forward key parts of his agenda: economic and health issues are critical in a pandemic, but the Liberals will want to push measures on child care, climate change, housing and Indigenous services.
Already Mr. Trudeau has reconfirmed that Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland will remain as Finance Minister.
But in another key pandemic portfolio, Health Minister Patty Hajdu is widely expected to be replaced – like Mr. Sajjan, shuffled sideways or down but not out of cabinet – by a fresh spokesperson on high-profile and potentially controversial issues such as vaccine mandates.
Mr. Trudeau’s advisers see Anita Anand, the Minister of Public Services and Procurement who quarterbacked Canada’s vaccine purchases, as the breakout star of the second term – and Liberals speculate she might be tapped for the tricky task of leading generals and admirals to culture change.
It is now a political imperative to move Mr. Sajjan, who seemed unable to respond as allegations emerged against a thick slice of the military’s top ranks – and who, after six years, can’t symbolize the more take-charge approach the Liberals want to project.
Both Ms. Anand and Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, who has a lower public profile but influence inside government, have been rumoured for either Defence or Health.
But so far, those who know aren’t confirming who is moving where.
One shoo-in for cabinet is Edmonton Centre MP Randy Boissonnault, a Rhodes scholar who lost his seat in 2019 but was re-elected in September, and is now the only Liberal MP from Alberta’s capital. However, the lone Liberal MP from Calgary, former city councillor George Chahal, is expected to miss out – this time – because he is being investigated for removing an opponent’s flyer from a voter’s porch.
Mr. Trudeau also needs a new Nova Scotia minister after Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan lost her seat. But the choice exemplifies some problems of building a third-term cabinet. Newly elected Halifax West MP Lena Diab is a former provincial minister and one of the few women Liberal MPs outside Ontario and Quebec. However, choosing her would mean again leaving out respected six-year veteran MP Sean Fraser – and Mr. Trudeau doesn’t want restless veteran backbenchers feeling their chance has passed.
He must replace four women in a gender-parity cabinet, but if he wants geographic balance, or a significant revamp, he will have to cut more ministers – perhaps those considered less likely to run again, such as Prairies special representative Jim Carr and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett.
And the thing is, Mr. Trudeau has ministers that his team feels are up for promotion, and a few who might step in to fix problems – but not a lot of obvious choices to highlight his policy priorities.
He might choose to move Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, who stumbled in the handling of internet-regulation legislation, because his portfolio will be in charge of several tricky bills that will have to be steered through the Commons over the next year. His politically savvy House Leader and Quebec lieutenant Pablo Rodriguez, who held that portfolio once before, would fit the role.
But Mr. Guilbeault, a former environmental activist, is seen by many risk-averse Liberals as being too radical for the job he wants most – steering the climate-change agenda. The Liberals have a solid Environment Minister, Jonathan Wilkinson – so to make use of his green credentials, Mr. Guilbeault, a big believer in the need for green infrastructure, could be shuffled to succeed Catherine McKenna as Infrastructure and Communities Minister.
Yet Mr. Trudeau’s big cabinet shuffle conundrum remains. It’s relatively straightforward to move ministers to fix problems and, if he’s ruthless, to move some out to make room for new faces. The question is who will he pick to push the key priorities of his 18-month agenda.
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