Justin Trudeau shuffles and expands his cabinet ahead of 2019 election

image: CanadianPress/Justin Tang

 

OTTAWA  —  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed his election year cabinet Wednesday, and, with it, some election-ready attacks aimed at his Conservative opponents. Trudeau expanded his cabinet by five and significantly shuffled some key responsibilities such as international trade, natural resources and border security.

The prime minister also delegated intergovernmental affairs to his longtime friend and political ally Dominic Leblanc. With conservative governments in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and conservative parties polling well in Alberta and Québec, Leblanc will be tasked with trying to bring premiers on board with the federal Liberals’ agenda.

“I think we recognize that there are changes going on in the makeup of the Council of the Federation, the different premiers across the country,” Trudeau told reporters outside Rideau Hall. “Ensuring that we have strong voices that are able to … demonstrate that the mandate we got from Canadians, whether it’s on climate change, whether it’s on immigration and keeping our country safe, will continue to be focused on by this government.”

When asked if he was concerned about a growing provincial conservative movement threatening his federal plans, Trudeau went on the attack. He accused conservatives both in Canada and abroad of playing “a very dangerous game,” stoking fear and “dividing” Canadians on issues such as public safety.

Trudeau seemed to be referring to recent Conservative Party charges that his government is not doing enough to address irregular migration at the Canada-U. S. border. Speaking to reporters, Conservative Deputy Leader Lisa Raitt refused to engage in a “war of words” with Trudeau. “These are real issues we’re bringing to the attention of this government,” Raitt said.

Raitt said her party is concerned about two things: people continuing to cross the border outside official ports of entry to claim asylum, and the pressure provincial and municipal governments are feeling to accommodate those asylum-seekers.

Bill Blair will soon be responsible for addressing those concerns. Trudeau gave the former Toronto police chief the newly created portfolio of “border security and organized-crime reduction.”

Blair’s responsibilities remain unclear; the Prime Minister’s Office said new mandate letters will not be released until “later this summer,” but confirmed the Canada Border Services Agency will remain under Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

Blair recently served as parliamentary secretary for both health and justice, to help stickhandle the government’s file on the legalization of marijuana. He could play a similar role on border issues, bridging the public safety and immigration portfolios.

Much of the cabinet shuffle was focused on the domestic front; Alberta MP Amarjeet Sohi gets natural resources. Francois-Philippe Champagne moves to Infrastructure and Communities. Pablo Rodriguez shifts to Heritage. Hamilton MP Filomena Tassi will run a recreated senior’s portfolio. Trudeau also tweaked some international roles.

Jim Carr, widely seen as a steady hand on the natural resources file, will now head up the government’s international trade file. The portfolio has been renamed “International Trade Diversification,” a direct acknowledgement that Canada’s largest trading partner, the United States, is proving an unreliable ally under the Trump administration.

Other changes included the appointment of Markham MP Mary Ng as Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion, and the promotion of Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson to the fisheries portfolio previously held by LeBlanc. Mélanie Joly, the former heritage minister, was shifted to handle tourism, official languages and La Francophonie.

In all, Wednesday’s shuffle involved 16 politicians. The expanded Liberal cabinet of 34, excluding Trudeau, still has an equal number of men and women.

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