For the third time in 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shuffled his Cabinet, promoting Parliamentary Secretary Joyce Murray to the role of President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government.
Today’s shuffle follows Jane Philpott’s resignation from Cabinet on March 4. Since then, Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough filled the vacancy on an interim basis. Given that Qualtrough’s current portfolio is a significant one, it was not surprising that another minister was asked to take on the role of President of the Treasury Board. Keeping Qualtrough in her current role also provides continuity to Public Services and Procurement, which runs the federal Integrity Regime.
Treasury Board is one of the leading roles in Cabinet, but typically has a low profile outside government. The department oversees the operations of the federal government, reviews all government spending, and provides approval for regulations. Treasury Board provides administrative oversight where other departments must return to say what they did with the money and what the outcomes were, as well as acting as the employer of the public service. The Minister can wield extraordinary but subtle influence on almost any aspect of government policy.
Murray served as Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board since 2015, but the elevation to one of Cabinet’s most senior roles is a significant promotion for the Vancouver Quadra MP. First elected in a byelection in 2008, Murray ran for the Liberal leadership in 2013, coming in a distant second to Trudeau. A key theme of Murray’s leadership run was electoral reform. Since 2015, her track record as Parliamentary Secretary has focused on greening federal government operations. Murray’s strong and vocal opposition to pipeline development has been a point of differentiation from the Liberal government’s approach. Murray’s strong positions on environmental issues could translate into policy over the course of years in the role, but with just six months to the election, there may not be enough time for that.
Today’s news of one minister being promoted to Cabinet is intended to simply fill the vacancy created by Philpott’s resignation, minimizing the impact of shuffling additional roles around the Cabinet table so close to an election. It also follows the March 1 Cabinet shuffle prompted by Jody-Wilson Raybould’s resignation, which saw Lawrence MacAulay shuffled to Veterans Affairs, Marie-Claude Bibeau to Agriculture and Agri-Food, and Maryam Monsef adding International Development to her portfolio of Women and Gender Equality.
As Election 2019 approaches, today’s announcement is another step for the Liberals to regain stable footing after weeks of internal challenges. Tomorrow, Finance Minister Bill Morneau will table his fourth budget which will be a prelude to Liberal campaign messaging on jobs, growth and the economy, as well as issues like housing, skills, and pharmacare. For Liberals, the budget will also be an opportunity to change the channel from the work of the House of Commons Justice Committee which will meet again Tuesday to determine next steps on the SNC-Lavalin matter.
This should be the last shuffle before the election, but as the last few months have demonstrated, a week can be a lifetime in politics. The reality is that for all political parties and their leaders, every action taken is now seen through the lens of Election 2019.