Trudeau’s cabinet shuffle moves Freeland up, Dion, McCallum out
Choices aimed at preparing for the challenges of a Trump presidency.
OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau made cabinet cornerstone Chrystia Freeland his new foreign affairs minister and promoted a trio of up-and-coming MPs as part of an inner-circle shakeup aimed in part at preparing for a Donald Trump presidency.
Freeland, a former economics journalist with extensive contacts in the US, leaves the trade portfolio to replace veteran Liberal MP Stephane Dion, who announced he plans to leave active politics.
“It’s extremely important to have a strong team of ministers around, and Chrystia Freeland is an extremely strong member of the team,” Trudeau told a news conference, all five of his new appointees beaming at his side.
“Her ability to deal with multiple situations around the world was well-demonstrated in her tremendous success in negotiating the Canada-Europe trade agreement.”
Freeland is a Canadian of Ukrainian descent who made decidedly undiplomatic remarks about Russia in the wake of that country’s military incursions into Ukraine in 2014. That same year, she and 12 other Canadians were barred from entering the country as part of a series of retaliatory sanctions imposed by President Vladmir Putin.
Asked about her ability to liaise with Russia, given her history, Trudeau would only say: “She speaks fluent Russian.”
Freeland herself said she agrees with her government’s position that “it is important to engage with all countries around the world, including Russia,” noting that her background and familiarity with the country makes her uniquely qualified for the role.
On the subject of whether she’d be allowed to travel there, she said, “That’s a question for Moscow.”
Ahmed Hussen, a Somali-born rookie MP first elected in 2015, is one of several new faces in cabinet that include Quebec MP Francois-Philippe Champagne, named international trade minister, and Karina Gould of Burlington, Ont., who takes Democratic Institutions from Maryam Monsef.
Trudeau dismissed suggestions that the change in Democratic Institutions signals a move away from his vaunted promise to do away with Canada’s so-called “first-past-the-post” electoral system.
“I continue to be committed towards renewing our electoral system, there’s no question about that, and I look forward to having Karina continue on the extraordinary work Maryam did over the past year of reaching out to Canadians, engaging with them and talking about how best to improve our democracy,” he said.
“This is something that matters deeply to Canadians, it matters deeply to us, and to me.”
Patty Hajdu, a strong performer who shone as status of women minister, is taking over the labour portfolio from MaryAnn Mihychuk, who is being dumped from cabinet altogether.
Monsef – widely criticized for her handling of Trudeau’s promise to reform Canada’s voting system – is moving to replace Hajdu at Status of Women.
Hussen is taking over the immigration portfolio from John McCallum, who is also quitting politics in order to become ambassador to China.
The fact that there was no immediate indication of a similar posting for Dion made clear that the ex-foreign affairs minister and one-time federal Liberal leader has been left at loose ends by the changes.
“Over the last 21 years, I have devoted myself to my riding, to my fellow citizens, to Quebec, to all of Canada, to the role that we must play in the world, and to the Liberal Party of Canada,” Dion said in a statement.
“I have enjoyed political life, especially when I was able to make a difference to benefit my fellow citizens. I emerge full of energy … renewable! But politics is not the only way to serve one’s country. Fortunately!”
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 was also seen as ill-suited to dealing with the unpredictable Trump, who has demonstrated a tendency to easily take offence.
Trudeau hailed Dion’s service and devotion to Canada in a “wide range of capacities,” saying he has offered the former minister “a very important senior position that is going to be key for me in the coming years.”
Dion, he said, “is rightly taking his time to consider” whether to accept the post.
Dion’s replacement, meanwhile, is a bona-fide cabinet superstar, 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.
Trudeau also paid tribute to McCallum, calling his work in the immigration portfolio on behalf of Syrian refugees “an inspiration to Canadians and an example to the world.”
News of the shuffle leaked out Jan. 10, 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.
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 in order to seek treatment for alcohol addiction following what he later admitted was an inappropriate relationship with a female staffer.
With the addition of Gould, Hussen and Champagne, the shuffle restores that gender balance.
This week’s shuffle may well be a prelude to another reset expected midway through Trudeau’s first mandate. Insiders expect a major realignment this summer, with a cabinet shuffle followed by a throne speech to kick off the second half of the mandate.News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2016