Justin Trudeau is leaning heavily on one of his star performers from his last cabinet, Chrystia Freeland, as he seeks to promote national unity, improve relations with China and address concerns over environmental and economic policies that cost the Liberals their majority.
Ms. Freeland is now Deputy Prime Minister, a clear No. 2 in the 36-member cabinet, and responsible for responding to regional issues such as alienation in some western provinces, and the resurgence of the separatist Bloc Québécois. Ms. Freeland will oversee a beefed up Intergovernmental Affairs portfolio and remain in charge of Canada-U.S. relations, including the ratification of the renegotiated free-trade agreement with the United States and Mexico.
Praising Ms. Freeland’s work as foreign affairs minister during the trade talks, the Prime Minister described her as a trusted confidante who will take the lead in attempting to quell anger in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where not a single Liberal MP was elected on Oct. 21.
“Chrystia and I have worked very closely on some of the biggest files facing Canada and the world … and our ability to work together on these issues – that quite frankly touch on national unity, touch on energy and the environment, touch on relations with all provinces and regions of the country – is going to be extremely important at a time when we see some very different perspectives across the country,” Mr. Trudeau said.
As the government promises to do more to tackle climate change, Mr. Trudeau appointed a business-oriented Environment Minister in an attempt to signal to the oil patch that it won’t be sacrificed as Ottawa works to further cut carbon emissions.
Jonathan Wilkinson, a Vancouver-area MP who grew up in Saskatchewan, takes over at Environment at a crucial time. Canada is expected to miss its 2030 targets for emission reductions, but even the policies already in place have roused fierce opposition in Alberta and Saskatchewan. After the government imposed a carbon tax in Saskatchewan, and said it will do the same in Alberta, voters in the two provinces wiped the Liberals off their electoral map.
Since the election, the Liberals have talked about the challenge of squaring demands from some parts of the country to tackle climate change more aggressively with the growing anger in Prairie provinces, where many people believe the Trudeau government is working against their interests.
Mr. Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday the two provinces are an “essential element“ of Canada’s move to a low-carbon economy.
Mr. Wilkinson will work closely with Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan – who is from Newfoundland and Labrador, which has an off-shore oil industry – on files such as the new environmental assessment act.
Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Brian Tobin said Mr. O’Regan will be a useful ally for Ms. Freeland in dealing with Alberta and Saskatchewan because he understands the importance of oil to the economy.
“He knows the industry, knows the importance of the regulatory environment and he knows that, with a fragile economic system, industry must develop with caution,” Mr. Tobin said.
Mr. O’Regan acknowledged his province’s industry is different from those of Alberta and Saskatchewan. He said he shares their concerns about accessing international prices for their oil, and he will meet with his Albertan counterpart, Sonya Savage, in Calgary on Thursday.
Montreal MP Pablo Rodriguez becomes government House Leader, and Quebec lieutenant, meaning he gets greater responsibilities in communicating the government’s message in the province.
Mr. Trudeau, who had resisted appointing a senior Quebec minister, said his government received a clear message when the Bloc more than tripled its seat count in the election. No other province has a senior minister in cabinet.
“I recognize that we have an opportunity and a need to ensure a clear and stronger voice among our great team of MPs from Quebec … that the messages we are hearing from and engagement with Quebeckers is done in the strongest possible way,” he said.
The Prime Minister has put together a new diplomatic team featuring François-Philippe Champagne as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mary Ng as Minister of International Trade and Karina Gould as Minister of International Development.
The appointments of Mr. Champagne and Ms. Ng are seen as signals to the business community that the Liberal government wants to repair relations with China and renew trade ties.
Canada’s arrest of senior Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States strained bilateral relations, and China subsequently detained two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – and blocked imports of Canadian agricultural products.
“Obviously, China is a growing global economy that has an impact on countries around the world in its trading dealings, and there are opportunities for Canadian businesses and Canadian exporters and Canadian investors to do well with better economic relations with China,” Mr. Trudeau said. “At the same time, Canadians expect us to stand up for our values and our rights, and we are going to do that.”
Mr. Champagne, a protégé of former prime minister Jean Chrétien and an international lawyer who has worked for major companies in Europe, takes over after a particularly bruising year between Beijing and Ms. Freeland, who developed a reputation as unafraid to speak her mind.
By the end of her tenure, University of British Columbia political scientist Yves Tiberghien said, “Freeland was not welcomed by China because some of the things that were said were so confrontational on both sides. … So what you get with Champagne is a new start, a fresh start.”
Mr. Champagne said he is heading to the Group of 20 foreign ministers meeting in Japan this week and plans to speak to his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi. He said he would raise the issue of the two detainees “first thing.”
The cabinet includes 10 ministers from Quebec and 17 from Ontario. Over all, it has 36 ministers, up from the previous total of 34, and once again features equal numbers of women and men.
Mr. Rodriguez, the new government House Leader, will have to work with the opposition parties in the new minority Parliament.
With reports from Marieke Walsh, and Steven Chase.
DANIEL LEBLANC, PARLIAMENTARY AFFAIRS REPORTER
ROBERT FIFE, OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
The Globe and Mail, November 20, 2019