In the first significant change since taking office in 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled his cabinet Wednesday, reimagining his front bench in preparation for the 2019 election.
While core positions in Finance and Foreign Affairs remained untouched, the changes signaled that the government lacked the momentum needed to secure a majority government in 2019.
Not to be outdone by the Toronto Raptors blockbuster trade this morning, Trudeau’s changes to his team reflect bolstered regional representation, emphasized trade diversification, and put forward a team ready to take on changing relations with provincial premiers — all areas in need of a revamp ahead of 2019.
Sounding the gun for 2019
After a tumultuous 2018, Justin Trudeau’s polling lead has dwindled, leaving him in a dead heat with the opposition Conservatives ahead of the election, scheduled for October 2019. Three years into its four-year mandate, Trudeau’s government was seemingly in need of a shakeup if it wanted a chance of maintaining its majority government status next year. To this point: the latest Nanos federal ballot tracking has the Liberals sitting at 37.3 per cent support, with the Conservatives closely following at 34.5 per cent, while the NDP is lagging behind at 18.4 per cent.
Many changes, including Jonathon Wilkinson and Bill Blair’s promotions, reflect a careful balance between increased regional representation and rewarding hard workers and political talent.
Other notable shifts including trade, infrastructure and heritage demonstrate a refreshed approach to these portfolios. The real winners of the shuffle are heavy-hitters Dominic LeBlanc and Jim Carr. Both were appointed to prominent positions tackling key challenges for the Trudeau government in trade diversification and federal-provincial relations.
Following the shuffle announcement, Prime Minister Trudeau noted that Canada needs to be less dependent on the United States. With seasoned minister Jim Carr spearheading this renewed approach to trade diversification, Trudeau is confident that unfinished business with CPTPP, CETA and ongoing talks with China, India and Mercosur countries will be handled smoothly. This will be partially supported by Mary Ng, who has become Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion.
Building a Ford-tough cabinet
A strong sub-theme is a shuffling of chairs to deal with the new Ford PC Government in Ontario that promises to be a challenge for the Trudeau Government in the lead up to the next federal election.
Dominic LeBlanc’s appointment to Intergovernmental Affairs, Internal Trade and Northern Affairs speaks largely to this focus. As of the PM’s most trusted confidants, and regarded as a “political animal”, LeBlanc’s mandate is to counter Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government and prepare for the possibility that Alberta’s United Conservative Party and the nationalist Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) will win provincial elections next year.
Some of this type of political heavy lifting in Ontario will also likely be led by new cabinet member Bill Blair, who will undoubtedly see his profile rise given his new responsibilities.
Tackling key election battlegrounds
The cabinet shakeup boosts the number of ministers from Ontario, Quebec and B.C., where the Liberals need to win more seats in the next election to offset potential losses elsewhere. Quebec in particular is shaping up to be a key election battleground, with the Conservatives appeal to increasing populist sentiment recently securing them a byelection win in the region.
By promoting several GTA rookies including Bill Blair (Scarborough), Mary Ng (Markham) and Filomena Tassi (Hamilton), Trudeau surely hopes to slow the Conservative populist wave that swept Toronto in the recent provincial election, with Federal Liberal seats in the 2019 election in jeopardy.
As highlighted above, the appointment of former Toronto police chief Bill Blair as Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction is also largely viewed as a response to the looming refugee crisis in Toronto that has had Mayor John Tory and Premier Ford up in arms about the feds’ handling of the issue thus far. This is all the more important as the Government is expected to shed seats elsewhere like in the 905, Atlantic Canada and in B.C.
The PMO will be unveiling mandate letters for the new team members and the various adjustments in the coming days. We also expect a shift in various Parliamentary Secretary roles, and a likely shuffle at the top of the federal public service among Deputy Ministers.
What is clear, however, is that the PM has made these changes with one collective goal in mind: maintaining his majority government moving into 2019. With a revamped front bench, and new energy coming into key roles, he has re-tooled his core team and, by extension, unofficially started the next federal election campaign.