• Oct 26, 2021
  • Insights

The new federal cabinet

Share this

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled his cabinet, making major portfolio changes designed to enable his government to move quickly on major priorities for the Liberal government’s third term in office, and putting a fresh face on his government as it heads into a new parliament.

The size of the federal cabinet rises to 39, including the prime minister. Twenty-two existing ministers have new or augmented roles, 8 members of Parliament join cabinet for the first time, 8 ministers remain in their former positions while three ministers exit cabinet to make room for new faces. In addition, the new ministry is virtually gender-balanced, with 19 women and 19 men, not counting the prime minister himself – in keeping with a 2015 commitment from the prime minister to have gender parity within his cabinet. As always in crafting a cabinet, PM Trudeau also considered regional and demographic representation as well as linguistic profiles.

A number of significant cabinet changes were announced today.

The prime minister is positioning this refreshed team to deliver on a “progressive” and “ambitious” agenda, committed to finishing the fight against COVID-19 and moving Canada forward beyond the pandemic. The government’s key priorities, reflected in the new make-up of cabinet, include rebuilding the economy and jobs, tackling climate change, finalizing childcare agreements with all provinces and territories, advancing Indigenous reconciliation, and making housing more affordable for Canadians. The ministry changes also seek to address the issue of Canadian Armed Forces sexual misconduct, the implementation of Canada’s robust climate agenda, and the economic and social inequities laid bare by the pandemic.

Prior to the cabinet shuffle, PM Trudeau had already made it clear that Chrystia Freeland would stay on as both deputy prime minister and Finance minister. The federal government’s priority remains COVID-19, and since the September 20th election, Minister Freeland has supported the PM on moving forward the federal government’s mandatory vaccine policies, and revamping COVID-19 support programs. Minister Freeland is seen as a strong advocate for women’s employment and childcare. She is Canada’s first female Finance minister and is emerging increasingly as a de facto Chief Operating Officer for Cabinet.

Quebec-based Mélanie Joly was vaulted into the Foreign Affairs portfolio. As a minister, Joly has had some successes and challenges in the past, particularly in her role as minister at Canadian Heritage. This is a significant promotion for Minister Joly, who most recently served as Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages. She takes over from Marc Garneau, who finds himself outside of cabinet, but is widely rumoured to be primed for a diplomatic appointment as a result.

As broadly expected, Harjit Sajjan was shuffled out of the National Defence portfolio, replaced by Anita Anand. Minister Anand is seen to have adeptly handled the roll-out of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine procurement efforts during her time as minister for Public Services and Procurement, and her appointment at DND is seen as a necessary change following months of the lingering sexual misconduct controversy. Minister Anand is only the second woman to hold the Defence portfolio in Canada’s history. For his part, Minister Sajjan will take on the International Development portfolio and be the Minister Responsible for the new Pacific [B.C.] Economic Development Agency.

Former International Development Minister Karina Gould is appointed to Families, Children and Social Development, and will be responsible for shepherding the last of the childcare agreements with the remaining provinces and territories.

Highlighting this government’s election platform focus on housing affordability in Canada, Ahmed Hussen takes on a new portfolio as minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion. He will be supported by the departments of Canadian Heritage, Women and Gender Equality Canada, and Infrastructure Canada.

Just days ahead of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, PM Trudeau appointed a new minister of Environment and Climate Change, with veteran environmental activist Steven Guilbeault taking the role on. Prior to his election in 2019, Mr. Guilbeault was involved with ENGOs Greenpeace and Equiterre. He has made no secret of his desire to be environment minister, involving himself in key climate and environment discussions around the cabinet table. Guilbeault is seen to have “star” status in Quebec but had a difficult experience at Canadian Heritage — his previous portfolio — managing proposed broadcast legislation. The appointment sends a very clear signal that the Trudeau government intends to double down on climate change policy. The Liberal election platform promised to cap greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions from the oil and gas sector “at a pace and scale needed to achieve net-zero by 2050, with five-year targets” starting in 2025 and 2030.

Appointing former environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson to Natural Resources is likely good news for those who have seen him to be a very effective representative on the climate change file. Min. Wilkinson is seen to be balanced, methodical and moderate with good links to industry and a practical understanding of the technology changes required. He has won international recognition for his climate change efforts leading up to COP26 and will lead Canada’s delegation there, alongside Min. Guilbeault. It isn’t yet clear how responsibility for climate change policy and the roll-out of significant Net Zero investment across several portfolios (including Industry) will shake out within cabinet (between him, Min. Guilbeault and others) but presumably Minister Wilkinson will continue to be a significant player in ensuring that emissions reductions are achieved. The two portfolios traditionally have a certain degree of creative tension and keep each other in check, while jointly advancing energy and environmental objectives. This dynamic is at the heart of the energy transition in Canada and around the world.

At Health, the portfolio will now be shared between Jean-Yves Duclos, Canada’s new health minister, and Carolyn Bennett, who takes on a new role as Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health. This is a reintroduction of a junior ministerial role at Health Canada to assist with a defined beat, and also separates mental health and addictions, widely recognized as major casualties of the pandemic, as a specific issue set with its own responsible steward. For his part, Minister Duclos will be seen to bring a stable technocratic hand back to the Health portfolio, and the centre of gravity of decision making will likely shift back toward Health from the COVID-19 Cabinet Committee. Min. Duclos is methodical in his approach and has experience working with regulators as well as with evidence-based decision-making processes.

Dominic Leblanc adds Infrastructure and Communities to his Intergovernmental Affairs responsibilities. This combination is designed to facilitate getting infrastructure money out the door, a difficulty the federal government has not managed to solve in part because most infrastructure spending requires provincial and municipal involvement. Leblanc will also be involved in negotiating changes to health and COVID-19 transfers to the provinces – a role for which he is well suited given his personality and general likeability.

Marc Miller moves to Crown-Indigenous relations, the hot spot of the government’s efforts on Indigenous reconciliation. He was very effective at Indigenous Services and developed strong relations with Indigenous leaders. He has impressed with his candour and empathy.

Patty Hajdu takes over from Minister Miller at Indigenous Services after an uncertain tenure at Health. Min. Hajdu has a background in community organization, and asa social activist from Northern Ontario,she is likely to be quite engaged in the file.

The politically formidable Francois-Philippe Champagne stays on at Innovation, Science and Industry. Notably, Economic Development has reverted to the traditional model of having different ministers fronting different regional development agencies. Traditionally, this made for a positive competitive tension at the cabinet table, with different regional champions making the case for projects and industries on their home turf. Previously, the Trudeau Government centralized all these roles under a single minister, which made it effectively a reporting and management role, rather than a regional championship role. This reversion to individual ministers will be very familiar to many but also brings more politics back into the economic development discussion.

While Economic Development is departmentally housed at Industry, Science and Economic Development (ISED), today’s announcement styled Minister Mary Ng as Minister for International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development, while also appointing ministers for each development agency.

An additional change of note is the hiving off of Emergency Preparedness from Public Safety. While Marco Mendicino will take over at Public Safety, Bill Blair has been appointed as President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Emergency Preparedness. He will be supported by both the Privy Council Office and Public Safety Canada. This machinery change is a reflection of the COVID era, which redefines what emergency response means – no longer just defined by law enforcement and military crisis response but building a standing inter-departmental and inter-governmental hub of coordination centred within PCO, and broadening the approach to include organizations such as provincial health ministries.

Fisheries and Oceans moves to British Columbian Joyce Murray, following the defeat of her predecessor in the polls. The portfolio traditionally alternates coasts and means the centre of gravity will naturally shift from issues like the Indigenous lobster fishery dispute in Atlantic waters, to West Coast priorities like salmon protection — safer political turf for the government, and commitments on which the Liberals have previously campaigned.

In addition to the departure of Marc Garneau, Bardish Chagger, formerly Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, and Jim Carr, who was Special Representative for the Prairies, will also no longer serve in Cabinet.

Senior staff changes in PMO

In advance of today’s cabinet announcement, the prime minister’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, announced two senior PMO appointments:

Brian Clow, formerly executive director of issues management, parliamentary affairs and Canada-US relations, will become deputy chief of staff, overseeing the parliamentary affairs, issues management, communications and policy teams, and will also continue to oversee the office’s Global Affairs and COVID teams.

Marjorie Michel, who was Quebec director of operations for the 2019 and 2021 election campaigns, becomes deputy chief of staff, managing the executive office, operations, outreach, public appointments and human resources.

What to keep an eye on

Within broader ministerial office staffing updates, it is worth noting that there has been very low turnover at the staff level since the Liberals took office in 2015. Along with the significant cabinet shuffle, many long-time staffers will need to determine whether to stay with their current portfolio or their minister, or alternatively, to take the opportunity to move on professionally. Like cabinet making, there is a sequence and domino effect to staffing changes within political offices.

Changes at the chief of staff level will likely need to occur first before further staffing can take place, leaving more junior staff in a holding pattern for the next week or two. That said, this provides an opportunity to reward high-performers and to inject new blood, though the pool of experienced federal political staffers is certainly shrinking. Ministerial staffing will ideally be sorted out in advance of the return of Parliament in late November.

With a number of notable builds within the cabinet structure, it will also be important to keep an eye on any additional machinery of government changes, both within departmental reporting structures and also within the cabinet committee structures and assignments. Mandate letters are expected to be released in due course but will likely be delayed until after the throne speech is delivered on November 22nd or 23rd.

The House of Commons will resume on November 22nd, beginning with the election of the speaker and the delivery of the Speech from the Throne on either the same or the following day, formally setting out the government’s mandate in broad terms.

Full list of cabinet changes

The following ministers remain in their pre-election portfolios:

  • Chrystia Freeland remains Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance
  • Omar Alghabra remains Minister of Transport
  • Marie-Claude Bibeau remains Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
  • François-Philippe Champagne remains Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry
  • Diane Lebouthillier remains Minister of National Revenue
  • David Lametti remains Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
  • Lawrence MacAulay remains Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence
  • Carla Qualtrough remains Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion

The following experienced cabinet members have new roles

  • Melanie Joly, formerly Economic Development Minister, takes over from Marc Garneau as Minister of Foreign Affairs.
  • Stephen Guilbeault, formerly Canadian Heritage Minister, becomes Minister of Environment and Climate Change, succeeding Jonathan Wilkinson, who moves to Natural Resources.
  • Harjit Sajjan leaves National Defence to become Minister of International Development and Minister Responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency.
  • The new Minister of Defence is Anita Anand, formerly Minister of Public Services and Procurement.
  • Pablo Rodriguez, who was Government House Leader is the new Canadian Heritage Minister.
  • Patty Hajdu, who was Minister of Health, moves to be Minister of Indigenous Services and Minister Responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario.
  • The new Minister of Health is Jean-Yves Duclos, formerly the Secretary to the Treasury Board. Health Canada will now have two ministers, as Carolyn Bennett takes on a new portfolio as Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health.
  • Dominic Leblanc adds to his existing portfolio of Intergovernmental Affairs also serving as Minister of Infrastructure and Communities.
  • Karina Gould, formerly Minister of International Development, becomes Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.
  • Ahmed Hussen, formerly Minister of Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, is appointed Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion.
  • Seamus O’Regan moves from Natural Resources to Labour.
  • Bill Blair, formerly Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, will serve as President of the Queen’s Privy Council and Minister of Emergency Preparedness.
  • Joyce Murray is appointed Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. Formerly, she was Minister of Digital Government, a position that no longer exists within the revamped cabinet.
  • Mona Fortier succeeds Jean-Yves Duclos at Treasury Board; she was formerly Associate Minister of Finance and Minister for Middle Class Prosperity.
  • Marco Mendicino moves from Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to Public Safety.
  • Marc Miller, formerly Minister of Indigenous Services, moves over to become Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.
  • Ginette Petipas Taylor, former Minister of Health in the first term of the Trudeau government, returns to cabinet as Minister of Official Languages and Minister Responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
  • Mary Ng remains as Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development.
  • Filomena Tassi, formerly Minister of Labour, becomes Minister of Public Services and Procurement.
  • Dan Vandal becomes Minister of Northern Affairs, Minister responsible for Prairies Economic Development Canada, and Minister responsible for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.

The following individuals join cabinet for the first time

  • Randy Boissonnault is appointed Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance.
  • Sean Fraser becomes Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
  • Mark Holland is the new Government House Leader.
  • Gudie Hutchings will be Minister of Rural Economic Development.
  • Marci Ien is appointed Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth.
  • Helena Jaczek will be the Minister Responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.
  • Kamal Khera is the new Minister of Seniors.
  • Pascale St-Onge is appointed Minister of Sport and Minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.

Feature image photo credit: Governor General’s Twitter account

Related articles