Last Thursday’s announcement of the resignation of political veteran Scott Brison from his Treasury Board portfolio prompted today’s mini-shuffle of the Cabinet. Brison’s departure also required the Liberals to highlight a new face from Nova Scotia at the Cabinet table.
This could be the last shuffle before the fixed federal election date: October 21, 2019. It is also an opportunity for Justin Trudeau to address any perceived weaknesses within his cabinet and prepare stronger ministers for more public-facing roles.
There’s always a chance another shuffle may occur prior to the election if another Minister decides to resign, but the Prime Minister has limited time to implement his legislative agenda since there are only sixty-nine sitting days in the House of Commons before it breaks for the next election. Limited House time means only those agenda items which are crucial for the government to pass, along with a Budget, will be prioritized.
The Liberal strategy heading into October will be focused on its social justice agenda, job creation for the middle class, and adding items to the checklist of accomplishments that can be part of the 2019 campaign. Given the election countdown and the limited bandwidth to push legislation through, stakeholders must be extremely focused in their “asks.” Priority will be given to items that can shape the government’s overall narrative and/or show progress in key areas.
Who’s Going Where?
- Jane Philpott (Markham-Stouffville, Ontario) replaces Brison as President of the Treasury Board. She also will become Minister of Digital Government.
- David Lametti (LaSalle-Émard-Verdun, Quebec) becomes Minister of Justice and Attorney General.
- Seamus O’Regan (St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, Newfoundland and Labrador) moves from Veterans Affairs to Indigenous Services.
- Jody Wilson-Raybould (Vancouver-Granville, British Columbia) moves from Justice and Attorney General to Veterans Affairs.
- Bernadette Jordan (South Shore-St. Margaret’s, Nova Scotia) joins Cabinet as Minister of Rural Economic Development.
Jane Philpott is the big winner in today’s shuffle. As President of the Treasury Board she will be in charge of the comptrollership of government and, therefore, have serious input into the overall running of the government and an important role guiding the ethics and accountability of how money is dispersed.
This is Philpott’s third portfolio under Prime Minister Trudeau: she served as Minister of Health and as the newly-created Minister of Indigenous Services. Increasingly seen as a trusted hand who gets things done by the Prime Minister and his team, Philpott’s appointment may assist the Liberals in shoring up their financial and administrative credentials before heading into October.
David Lametti’s appointment is also a promotion and, perhaps, a demonstration that the government felt that it was not achieving its agenda on justice files over the last few months. A former Law professor at McGill University, Lametti served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation. He is well-liked by people within government.
His knowledge of intellectual property and digital privacy law strengthens the Cabinet, especially amid the backdrop of issues such as Huawei and more general concerns regarding election interference. This appointment should be seen through a pre-election issues-management lens, rather than a focus on mandate commitments.
A close friend of the Prime Minister, Seamus O’Regan was brought into Cabinet as Minister of Veterans Affairs in 2017 as the Newfoundland voice at the table. While he faced some controversy in his role as Veterans Affairs Minister, this will be a good opportunity for a fresh start for the rookie MP and Cabinet Minister. However, this portfolio is no less challenging in terms of day-to-day stakeholder and civil service management.
Jody Wilson-Raybould has served as Justice Minister since the Liberal Government took office in 2015 and was moved today to Veterans Affairs. This is an extremely challenging file for any Minister and will require all her skill to work with stakeholders to ensure that issues in this portfolio do not become a focus during the election, as they did for the Conservatives in 2015.
Backbencher Bernadette Jordan was given a new role as Minister of Rural Economic Development. For a government sometimes accused of a lack of focus on rural concerns, Jordan has an opportunity to be a strong conduit between Liberal MPs and the Prime Minister’s Office to bring concerns forward. Her appointment also ensures that Nova Scotia has a seat at the Cabinet table. It is expected that this portfolio will fit within the broader Innovation, Science and Economic Development department, with a focus on creating more jobs in rural Canada.