11 things about Trudeau’s new Cabinet

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OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau is overhauling his Cabinet in a post-election reset that comes after he failed to recapture the majority clutch on power he lost in 2019.

The Canadian prime minister’s fresh roster and new ministries, unveiled Tuesday, also suggest he has an eye on his legacy. Trudeau is entering a third mandate that some believe could be his last.

When asked if he plans to lead the Liberals into the next election, the prime minister gave a one-word answer on Tuesday: "Yes."

The shakeup represents no ordinary shuffle. Trudeau intended to send messages by dividing the health department into two streams, creating a new portfolio dedicated to housing amid affordability fears and installing a former environmentalist as his new climate-change captain.

Trudeau tapped former activist Steven Guilbeault as his environment minister, in perhaps his biggest Cabinet signal.

Guilbeault was arrested 20 years ago for a Greenpeace stunt that saw him scale 1,115 feet up the CN Tower to hang a giant banner that said: “Canada and Bush Climate Killers.” The former heritage minister will be busy from the get-go on a file central to the Trudeau brand. Guilbeault will be in the spotlight next week alongside Trudeau at COP26 in Glasgow.

Here are 11 things to know about Trudeau’s new Cabinet:

1. Canada has a new top diplomat

Trudeau named Mélanie Joly as his foreign affairs minister, putting her in charge of building Canada’s relationship with the world. Joly will oversee the government's critical relations with the United States and the intensifying challenge of how to manage ties with China.

The gig is a major promotion for Joly, who served in the last Parliament as minister of economic development and official languages. It’s a rebound for Joly who was shuffled out of the heritage portfolio in 2018 in what was widely seen as a demotion.

The former Montreal mayoral candidate, who has long been close to Trudeau, was co-chair of his Liberals’ 2021 election campaign. She replaces Marc Garneau, the former astronaut who had been in the job since January.

2. Sajjan is out at defense, Anand is in

Anita Anand, who is credited with helping Canada accumulate one of the world’s biggest supplies of Covid-19 vaccines, has been tasked with the major new challenge — addressing a crisis at the highest levels of the military.

Anand takes over as defense minister from Harjit Sajjan, who has been shuffled to international development. The former law professor, an expert in corporate governance, is the second woman to serve as Canada’s defense minister.

Trudeau will lean on Anand, who has no military experience, to deal with sexual misconduct within the leadership of the Canadian Armed Forces. CBC News reports that since last winter 11 senior military leaders — both current and former — have been sidelined, investigated or forced into retirement.

3. New jobs put focus on housing, health

Trudeau also introduced new portfolios Tuesday, highlighted by the creation of ministries for housing as well as for health and addictions.

Mounting affordability concerns since the start of the pandemic — and especially a surge in housing prices across the country — are becoming a bigger political risk for the government. The prime minister has assigned Ahmed Hussen, the former minister of families, children and social development, to take the reins on a still-to-be-defined Cabinet role.

Carolyn Bennett was sworn in as the new minister of health and addictions. The Liberals pledged in their election platform to transfer C$4.5 billion to the provinces for mental health care over the next five years. The party has also committed to do more to address an opioid epidemic that kills thousands each year. Bennett, a family physician, is a veteran Cabinet member who was most recently Trudeau’s minister of Crown-Indigenous relations.

4. Economic development spread out

Joly oversaw every regional development agency before the last election. There are seven across Canada for the Pacific region, the Prairies, the North, northern and southern Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic.

They'll each now get their own minister, a key point of contact for a long list of businesses, non-profits and communities that hope to unlock federal funding.

5. New faces at the table

Women and Gender Equality Minister Marci Ien is the first Black woman to serve in Cabinet since Jean Augustine in 2004. Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault, first elected in Edmonton Centre in 2015, returns to the Commons after losing in 2019. Boissonnault was once the prime minister's special adviser on LGBTQ2S+ issues.

Government House Leader Mark Holland was first elected when Paul Martin was prime minister. He was chief government whip in the last Parliament. Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge is a rookie MP and former union leader in Quebec. She's a key voice for rural Quebec. Rural Economic Development Minister Gudie Hutchings has been a parliamentary secretary since her first win in 2015.

Helena Jaczek, the economic development minister for southern Ontario, was once a health minister and Cabinet chair at Queen's Park. Official Languages Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor is back in Cabinet after being dropped from the front bench after the 2019 election.

6. Three exits clear space on the front bench

Bardish Chagger, one of the ministers at the center of the WE scandal, has been dropped. Jim Carr is also out. The Winnipeg MP, once Trudeau’s “eyes and ears on the West,” most recently served as a minister without portfolio after leaving Cabinet temporarily for cancer treatment.

Garneau also makes an exit with speculation that he’s in line for a diplomatic assignment.

7. The queerest Cabinet

Trudeau’s Cabinet boasts first-time MP St-Onge, Seamus O’Regan (moving to Labour from Natural Resources) and returning Edmonton MP Boissonnault. “That isn’t to say that there haven’t been a number of ministers in Canadian history who simply weren’t out, sometimes more than one at a time; but when it comes to those who are openly LGBTQ2S+, the list is short,” Dale Smith wrote recently in Xtra of the pending Cabinet milestone.

8. All the places that aren't in Cabinet

The Liberal caucus's 158 MPs are substantially concentrated in cities and suburbs. They don't represent wide swaths of the country, including most rural areas outside of Atlantic Canada. That means there's nobody who represents the three territories or the British Columbia interior, and Prairie ridings outside of Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg won't have a direct voice.

Chagger's exclusion means the tech-heavy Waterloo region is minister-less, along with the rest of southwestern Ontario. Halifax's Lena Diab was rumored to be a contender, but that city is the biggest on the east coast with no ministers.

On a per capita basis, Atlantic Canada (population: 2.3 million) won the day with six ministers. B.C. (population: 5.1 million) nets only four.

9. Suburbs, suburbs, suburbs

Trudeau's Cabinet math spread the wealth across the Greater Toronto Area.

In: Burlington, Oakville, Mississauga, Brampton, Markham, Ajax.

Out: Milton, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Aurora, Newmarket, Pickering, Whitby, Oshawa.

Other suburbs in the mix: B.C.'s North Vancouver and Delta, Manitoba's Saint Boniface and St. Vital, and Ontario's Ancaster and Dundas. (Plus the inner Toronto suburbs of York, North York and Scarborough.)

10. Escaping the thorny heritage file

On Tuesday the prime minister brought in a third Montrealer to take on the challenging file. Pablo Rodriguez has moved to heritage from the House Leader’s office. The veteran minister will remain Trudeau’s Quebec lieutenant.

Joly and Guilbeault each get new posts after they each had bumpy rides in the heritage portfolio. The role is far more important in the majority francophone province of Quebec than elsewhere in Canada. The province is crucial to the Liberals’ electoral base.

Guilbeault struggled with communication at times as he tried to deliver on Trudeau’s controversial Internet agenda that focused on major legislative reforms around privacy, broadcasting and online harms.

Trudeau shuffled Joly from heritage in 2018 following controversy over a C$500 million deal with Netflix to develop Canadian content and another over her messaging on whether the government would introduce a sales tax on the U.S.-based streaming platform.

11. One more first at Rideau Hall

Trudeau’s Cabinet was sworn in by Mary May Simon. Canada's first Indigenous governor general was appointed in July.

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