Trudeau poised to shuffle, retool cabinet with focus on Liberals' team for 2019

Trudeau poised to shuffle, retool cabinet with focus on Liberals' team for 2019

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau will shuffle his front benches Wednesday to install the roster of ministers that will be entrusted with leading the Liberal team into next year's election.

The changes will expand the prime minister's cabinet by adding new posts to showcase up-and-coming MPs and to broaden the profile of a party that has long pinned its fortunes to the Trudeau brand, sources say.

The shuffle appears designed to ensure deft communicators are well-placed to spell out the government's positions and defend policies on hot political issues leading up to the 2019 election campaign.

Insiders have indicated there's a possibility Ottawa will appoint a minister dedicated to seniors, a post that existed in past federal cabinets.

The mid-summer shakeup will give ministers a couple of months to get up to speed on their new portfolios before they return to Parliament this fall, and the Liberals will hope they can master their responsibilities ahead of the election. Nearly three years into its four-year mandate, the Liberal government has few remaining opportunities to rejig its cabinet lineup.

In some cases, Trudeau could lighten the work loads of cabinet ministers who currently oversee more than one portfolio.

For instance, Kirsty Duncan, the minister of science and minister of sport and persons with disabilities, will likely see her duties divided back into two jobs. The prime minister could do the same for Bardish Chagger, who is both the government House leader and the minister of small business and tourism.

Several familiar faces — including Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi — were on the move, sources told The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity. 

But if Wednesday's heavy ministerial schedule is any indication, many high-profile positions, including finance and defence, will be left untouched by the shuffle.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay, Labour Minister Patty Hajdu, Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor and Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef all have events scheduled for Wednesday. Finance Minister Bill Morneau is preparing to leave for this weekend's meeting with his G20 counterparts in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The government could also look to replace ministers who have no plans to run again in 2019. So far, however, no ministers have publicly signalled that they intend to skip next year's campaign.

As for potential new faces in cabinet, several names have been churning in Ottawa's rumour mill in recent days. They include MPs Mary Ng, Joel Lightbound and Bill Blair, all touted frequently by their colleagues as well worthy of promotion to the front bench.

With so much shuffle talk, worries have spread among political staffers who are contemplating how the moves will affect their own job security.

The political scenes in big provinces could also be part of the federal calculation behind Wednesday's shuffle, with the Liberals now dealing with conservatives running Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

Promoting Liberal MPs in Quebec may well be a consideration when Trudeau announces his changes. The Liberals hold 40 Quebec seats, including Trudeau's, and the province will be critical to the party's fortunes in 2019.

In Ontario, Trudeau's cabinet changes may be designed to deal with trouble spots that could deteriorate over the coming months between his federal Liberals and the province's new Progressive Conservative government led by Doug Ford.

Tensions between Ford's government and Ottawa have deepened over the contentious asylum-seeker issue. Criticism from the Ontario government has come in addition to growing pressure from federal opposition parties on the Liberal government to share more about its plan to deal with the influx of irregular border crossers.

 

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press