2021 Federal Cabinet Shuffle

Don Moors, President and Joshua Matthewman, Director

The Top Line

The new Federal Cabinet was appointed this morning. The Prime Minister took one of the longest time periods ever after an election to appoint a Cabinet, telegraphing major changes. In the end, there was a significant reorganization of Ministers and their portfolios. Nine new Ministers are entering Cabinet and 21 returning Ministers have been assigned some kind of changed portfolio. The new Ministers are predominantly from Atlantic Canada, the Greater Toronto Area, and Quebec, reflecting the importance of those regions to Liberal election victories, and one of the Liberal Alberta MPs is in Cabinet as well. Cabinet is one person larger after today, now comprised of 38 Ministers, plus the Prime Minister, and the Ministers are once again gender balanced.

Getting beyond the raw numbers and regional considerations, there are several interesting areas of change and continuity in the new Cabinet. With the exception of the major economic portfolios, the Cabinet shuffle saw new Ministers assigned to almost every traditionally significant Department and to the policy areas that the Liberal Party has signalled it will prioritize during this term of government. Those Ministers, discussed in the following section of this note, will have major impacts on Federal policy while in their posts.

Finance and the Economy

As the Prime Minister announced several weeks ago, Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale) will continue in her joint role of Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister. Meanwhile, Mona Fortier (Ottawa-Vanier) was promoted to Treasury Board President, meaning that she and Minister Freeland will continue to work closely on fiscal policy, as they did during the last term of government.

In fact, the major financial and economic portfolios are the only case of significant continuity after the Cabinet shuffle, with François-Philippe Champagne (Saint-Maurice—Champlain) remaining as Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry; Mary Ng (Markham-Thornhill) continuing as Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development, and Omar Alghabra (Mississauga Centre) retaining his role as Minister of Transport. The Prime Minister will rely on those familiar and experienced voices to help the Liberal government navigate the recovery from the fiscal and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, Randy Boissonnault (Edmonton Centre), returning to Parliament after losing in Election 2019, was given the new portfolio of Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance. The Government is sending a clear signal of intent by giving the tourism sector, which was decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic and has little chance of a deep and sustained recovery until 2022, a dedicated Minister. Watch for Minister Boissonnault to oversee targeted programs for the recovery of that sector.

Finally, a minor but notable change to the economic portfolios is that there are now dedicated Ministers for the various regional economic development agencies. That has traditionally been the case, but not under Prime Minister Trudeau. Those Ministers will also be key stakeholders for regional economic recovery strategies from the pandemic.

Health and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Other than the economic portfolios, almost every Department that deals with issues pertaining to COVID-19 was assigned a new Minister, with the exception of Carla Qualtrough (Delta) as Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion. That major change reflects a belief that, after leading the Federal response to the pandemic for twenty months, the team managing the crisis needed to be refreshed.

Most notably, Jean-Yves Duclos (Quebec) is the new Minister of Health, having previously served as Treasury Board President.  A new portfolio was created for Carolyn Bennett (Toronto-St. Paul’s), who becomes Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health.  Finally, Filomena Tassi (Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas) is the new Minister of Public Services and Procurement, which has been responsible the procurement of vaccines and other pandemic medical supplies.

The creation of a dedicated Ministerial portfolio for Mental Health and Addictions should not go unnoticed at a time when several Canadian municipalities – including Toronto and Vancouver – are exploring decriminalizing opioids as a way to combat the addictions crises in their communities. In the coming years, this portfolio could be important to transformative changes to public health and law enforcement in Canada.

Finally, Minister Duclos will soon need to embark on major Federal-Provincial negotiations to renew the Canada Health Transfer. The results of those negotiations will shape Federal spending and healthcare services across Canada for years to come. The Prime Minister has promised to increase healthcare funding through the Transfer, but only with conditions on how Provinces spend that money, which is always a trigger for Federal-Provincial tussling.

Climate and Environment

Perhaps the biggest “splash” of the Cabinet shuffle was the appointment of Steven Guilbeault (Laurier—Sainte-Marie) as Minister of Environment and Climate Change (ECCC). With his appointment, the Liberals likely hope to communicate to left-leaning voters that the climate file continues to be a high priority for the Government and to ensure that the Quebec media covers more of the Federal policies in this area (due to the Minister’s roots in that Province’s environmental movement and the fact that climate is a particularly impactful issue in Quebec politics). On the other hand, the appointment will be divisive, because Guilbeault is strongly disliked by many Conservatives due to his history of criticizing the Alberta oil and gas sector.

Minister Guilbeault must immediately get briefed and prepared to lead the Canadian delegation to COP26 in Glasgow. It will be interesting to monitor if he can make an international impression at COP and leverage his past experience with the Summit to make progress on climate issues, having attended and founded Équiterre at the first COP in Rio de Janeiro in 1993.

Meanwhile, outgoing ECCC Minister Jonathan Wilkinson (North Vancouver) has been shifted to the Natural Resources portfolio. Wilkinson spent much of his career as an executive in the low-carbon energy and clean tech sectors. Expect his mandate at Natural Resources (NRCan) to focus on aligning departmental programs and policies more closely with the Federal climate plan. Past governments – and especially Conservative ones – have viewed the NRCan portfolio as an economic one, but this government increasingly thinks the Department must have a strong environmental focus in order for Federal climate targets to be achieved.

Other Notable Appointments

Perhaps the only Minister involved in managing the Federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic that significantly enhanced their reputation while doing so was Anita Anand (Oakville). Her reward for that is an appointment to the National Defence portfolio, where reforming the handling of sexual assault and harassment allegations within the Armed Forces is an urgent task.

Also of note, Mélanie Joly (Ahuntsic-Cartierville) was appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs – a post that traditionally goes to a Minister viewed as more senior and seasoned. Joly’s flawless bilingualism and strong communication skills were likely the major factors in her appointment – four of the five Foreign Affairs Ministers under Prime Minister Trudeau have been Quebecers.

New Faces and Departures

There are several new faces in Cabinet, one of whom is a first-term MP and several of whom are MPs that were first elected in the Trudeau wave of 2015.

Well-liked Nova Scotia MP Sean Fraser (Central Nova), previously Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, becomes Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.  Also from Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland MP Gudie Hutchings (Long Range Mountains) becomes Minister of Rural Economic Development. From Ontario, Marci Ien (Toronto Centre) is the new Minister of Women and Gender Equality and Youth, Kamal Khera (Brampton West) is the new Minister of Seniors, and former Ontario Minister of Health Helena Jaczek (Markham-Stouffville) was chosen as the Minister Responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.  Also, veteran MP Mark Holland (Ajax) was promoted to Cabinet in the role of Government House Leader.

Finally, one rookie MP made it into Cabinet: new Quebec MP Pascale St-Onge (Brome- Missisquoi) is Minister of Sport and Minister Responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.    

On the other hand, three incumbent Ministers were not re-appointed to Cabinet, namely: Jim Carr, who was the Prime Minister’s Special Representative for the Prairies; Bardish Chagger, who was Government House Leader and Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth; and Marc Garneau, who was Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The full membership and roles of Cabinet can be found here.

Impact on Advocacy

The policy commitments from Budget 2021 and the Liberal Party election platform will give the Trudeau government a heavy policy and legislative agenda to deliver on during the first 12-18 months of its new mandate. Past the 18-month mark of a minority Parliament, the attention of the Government will turn increasingly to re-election considerations, and the continued cooperation of the Opposition Parties to support the Government cannot be assumed.

In that context, and given the significant changes to both the membership of and responsibilities in Cabinet, quick and sustained engagement of Ministers should be a high priority for stakeholders. It will be especially important to build relationships with the Ministers responsible for the Government’s priority files – climate change, the economy and health – because those issues will dominate the Government’s agenda for the foreseeable future.

After Election 2019, Ministers were invited to offer input on their mandate letters and the Speech from the Throne, and we expect that to be the case again. As such, stakeholders should begin contacting both new Ministers and PMO with mandate suggestions and specific policy ideas. The minority Parliament means that Ministers may favour regulation-making over legislation as a way of advancing policy goals, and stakeholders should consider that for their policy input.

With a minority Parliament, the Opposition Parties will continue to have significant capacity to influence and delay the Government’s legislative agenda and determine the activities of House of Commons Committees. As such, stakeholders should monitor closely for the appointment of the Conservative and NDP Shadow Cabinets (the Bloc Quebecois Critics have already been appointed), and look to build relationships with those MPs.

Next Milestones

  • Parliament will return on November 22 with the election of a Speaker and a Speech from the Throne. Parliament is scheduled to sit for four weeks before recessing for Christmas and returning in late-January for the winter session.
  • A Fall Economic Statement may also be introduced before the Christmas recess. 
  • Mandate letters will be sent to Ministers, outlining the priorities for each Department, sometime during the next month or so.
  • With the appointment of a new Cabinet, corresponding changes to the staff teams of each Minister and at PMO will begin in earnest. We expect several Chiefs of Staff to leave government and there has already been some churn of other senior staff. For example, the PMO appointed two Deputy Chiefs of Staff (Brian Clow and Marjorie Michel) to augment the management ranks of the Prime Minister’s team.
  • The Federal Cabinet Committees webpage has been updated with a notice that new Committee memberships will be published soon. The Committee memberships will indicate which Ministers hold the most influential roles in Cabinet. Watch in particular for the memberships of the Committees for Finance, Climate, and Health.
  • The Conservative and NDP Shadow Cabinets will be appointed in the coming weeks.
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