By Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press
Ottawa: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to give his year-old cabinet a facelift on Tuesday, shifting some weak ministers and promoting strong performers as his government braces for Donald Trump’s imminent ascension to the U.S. presidency.
Sources tell The Canadian Press that the shuffle will involve at least six people.
Those expected to be moved include International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is believed likely to replace Stephane Dion at Foreign Affairs.
Freeland, a former economics journalist with extensive contacts in the United States, is credited with deftly navigating through some eleventh-hour obstacles that threatened last fall to scupper the Canada-European Union free trade agreement potentially valuable experience for dealing with the incoming Trump administration.
Trump, whose inauguration takes place Jan. 20, has vowed to adopt an unapologetically protectionist, America-first policy on trade, including re-opening or even tearing up the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Dion’s tenure at Foreign Affairs has been a rocky one, marred by controversy over his approval of a $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. His prickly demeanour could also be ill-suited to dealing with the unpredictable Trump, who has demonstrated a tendency to easily take offence.
Rumours have swirled for months that Dion was to be named ambassador to France but he has denied any interest in the plum post.
News of the shuffle leaked out Monday, just as the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that Trudeau’s two top aides, Katie Telford and Gerald Butts, have been meeting with some of Trump’s senior advisers, building bridges to the incoming administration.
Also believed to be in the shuffle mix are Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu, seen as a strong performer, and Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef widely criticized for her handling of Trudeau’s promise to reform Canada’s voting system.
Employment Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk is also expected to be moved.
Sources, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose details publicly, expect at least one new face in cabinet: Francois-Philippe Champagne, parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
In his first cabinet of 30 ministers, Trudeau famously appointed an equal number of men and women “because it’s 2015.” That parity was upset last fall when Hunter Tootoo resigned from cabinet and the Liberal caucus to seek treatment for alcohol addiction following what he later admitted was an inappropriate relationship with a female staffer.
The addition of Champagne would restore the gender balance, assuming Dion remains in cabinet in some capacity.
Another insider, speaking anonymously to discuss details not yet made public, said Tuesday’s modest shuffle is part of a strategy to gradually renew the cabinet team, rather than conduct one massive shake-up midway through Trudeau’s first mandate.
Another realignment of ministerial positions is likely in the summer before kicking off the second half on the mandate in the fall with a throne speech, said the insider.