Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expanded his cabinet on Wednesday to put the spotlight on trade diversification, the flow of asylum seekers and confronting an increasingly strong challenge from the provincial premiers in the runup to next year’s general election.
The summer shakeup adds five new faces from Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia – where the Liberals need to win more seats to offset potential losses elsewhere, shuffles six veteran ministers and creates new portfolios for intergovernmental affairs, border security and seniors.
The Prime Minister tapped trusted confidant Dominic LeBlanc and former Toronto police chief Bill Blair to handle simmering disputes with the provinces over the contentious carbon tax, internal trade barriers and the migrant crisis.
The federal Liberals are facing combative governments in Ontario and British Columbia and the prospect of Alberta’s United Conservative Party and the nationalist Coalition Avenir Québec winning provincial elections next year. Opposition is growing in the provinces to Ottawa’s plan to impose a carbon tax, while Ontario Premier Doug Ford has sharply criticized the strain on resources posed by asylum seekers coming into the province.
“We recognize that there are changes going on in the makeup of the Council of the Federation, of the different premiers across the country. Ensuring that we have strong voices that are able to directly reassure Canadians about the path we’re on, 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”, Mr. Trudeau told reporters after the swearing in at Rideau Hall.
Deputy Conservative leader Lisa Raitt told a later news conference that Mr. LeBlanc, the former fisheries minister, can be charming but complained he is extremely partisan.
“Beneath that charming exterior is a very strong, politically savvy individual and I think what it is saying is that this government is willing to take on the provinces and have a fight, which is another broken promise, because they said those divisive politics were done with respect to fighting with the provinces,” she said.
Ms. Raitt also noted that Mr. Ford had an acrimonious relationship with Mr. Blair when he was police chief and was investigating his late brother, Rob, the former mayor of Toronto.
“That appointment, while it looks good on paper, is going to be fraught with difficulties, especially when it comes to dealing with Toronto and Ontario,” she said.
Still, the Liberals believe the inclusion of Mr. Blair, who had a reputation of being a law-and-order cop, as newly created Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction will help them counter the stand the Conservatives have taken against migrant queue-jumpers, the rise in gun violence and the implementation of legalized cannabis.
In a sign of what is likely to be a looming showdown over migrant border crossings, Mr. Trudeau accused the federal and Ontario Conservatives of “playing a very dangerous game” with their rhetoric on asylum seekers.
“When Conservatives across the country are playing the fear card, we need strong, reassuring voices to counter that and to demonstrate that the safety and security of Canadians and their communities is something that we will never flinch on,” he said.
As the United States under President Donald Trump becomes increasingly protectionist, the Prime Minister has given his government a mandate to diversify trade away from the country − an idea that has been tried in the past without much success.
“We need to ensure that we are not as dependent on the United States and promoting small businesses to export more, ensuring that we are diversifying our trade is a huge responsibility for this government and one we take very seriously,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Manitoba MP Jim Carr was elevated from Natural Resources to a refocused and renamed Trade Diversification department with a mandate to encourage Canadian businesses to look for export markets in Asia, Latin America and elsewhere. He will be helped out in this task by rookie MP Mary Ng, a former top Trudeau adviser, who takes over as Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion.
Mr. Carr said he hopes to lure foreign investors to Canada while encouraging the world to buy more from Canada, including the pursuit of preliminary free trade with China. “China represents a market that is very important for Canada,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland remains in charge of North American free-trade negotiations and the growing tariff dispute with the Trump administration.
Edmonton MP Amarjeet Sohi, who handled infrastructure, moved to Natural Resources and will oversee the completion of the Trans Mountain pipeline to get Canadian oil and gas to world markets. The infrastructure post went to François-Philippe Champagne, previously at International Trade. Mr. Champagne can be expected to promote infrastructure announcements in the coming election year.
Quebec MP Mélanie Joly, once a rising star who critics say performed poorly in the Heritage ministry, suffered a major demotion. She was given the newly created role of Tourism, Official Languages and la francophonie. Veteran Quebec MP Pablo Rodriguez takes over at Heritage.
In other moves, rookie B.C. MP John Wilkinson became Fisheries Minister and Filomena Tassi from Hamilton was named to the newly created post of Seniors Minister while Procurement and Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough was given extra duties to help remove barriers to Canadians with disabilities.
Kirsty Duncan keeps Science as well as as retaining Sports that she inherited when Calgary MP Kent Hehr was dropped from cabinet over accusations of inappropriate behaviour. She is the only minister to hold two portfolios in the current 35-member cabinet.
OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
The Globe and Mail, July 18, 2018