Justin Trudeau set to reveal a cabinet focused on fighting climate change and economic relief for the middle class

Justin Trudeau set to reveal a cabinet focused on fighting climate change and economic relief for the middle class

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday reveals a revised team of cabinet ministers to steer his government through a minority Parliament who have marching orders to focus on combat climate change and economic relief for the middle class.

It means prominent new roles for veterans, a shuffling for others representing key regions, and surprise roles for high-profile newcomers as Trudeau moves to bolster his government’s ability to reflect the interests and needs of Western Canada and to address the importance of Quebec where the Bloc Québécois ate into Liberal support.

The new cabinet is to be sworn in starting at 1:30 p.m. at Rideau Hall. It promises to be a low-key affair compared to the ceremony for Trudeau’s first cabinet in 2015, when the new ministers walked en masse through the grounds of Rideau Hall among throngs of visitors invited to take part.

Trudeau is inviting to the cabinet table his star Quebec environmental recruit but Steven Guilbeault, who spent much of his career as an activist fighting pipelines, will not take up the environmental portfolio, the Star has learned.

Instead, that job is expected to go to Jonathan Wilkinson, a Saskatchewan native elected in North Vancouver who was parliamentary secretary to the previous environment minister, Catherine McKenna. CTV reported McKenna is moving to the infrastructure file.

The expectation is that Wilkinson won’t be the same lightning rod for western discontent in the oilpatch as Guilbeault might have been. Wilkinson has said pipelines are in the national interest and believes the decision to buy and expand the Trans Mountain pipeline will not compromise Canada’s ability to meet its international greenhouse gas-reduction targets under the Paris Agreement.

He will nevertheless have his work cut out to chart a path to meeting those targets, all while selling the Liberal government’s policy in the West, where Liberals were wiped out in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The new cabinet is expected to also highlight the importance of Quebec after the election saw the resurgence of the Bloc Québécois. Pablo Rodriguez, formerly whip and minister of Canadian Heritage, could become House leader. That’s a key job in a minority parliament that involves negotiating the legislative agenda with the opposition minorities, including the Bloc Québécois.

François-Philippe Champagne, the international trade lawyer who held trade and infrastructure files in the last mandate, is reportedly moving to foreign affairs to replace Chrystia Freeland. Champagne, fluently bilingual and energetic, will be key to seeing the new NAFTA through to ratification and navigating Canada’s strained relationship with a rising China which continues to detain two Canadians in apparent retaliation for an extradition arrest of a Chinese executive at the behest of the Trump administration.

Champagne’s move to Global Affairs puts a question mark over the next cabinet position for Freeland. There was speculation that Freeland’s new focus will be domestic, perhaps serving as intergovernmental affairs minister, as the government looks to heal regional rifts.

Toronto’s Bill Morneau, who has held the finance portfolio since 2015, will remain in the role, sources suggested Wednesday. He will be tasked with the government’s first priority, delivering a broad-based tax cut.

There was a speculation that Monday’s cabinet moves could bring a promotion for Melanie Joly, currently the minister of tourism, official languages and La Francophonie. The Montreal MP had been demoted from the heritage portfolio after a series of missteps but sources say that Joly has impressed during her time in her current portfolio.

The defeat of political veteran Ralph Goodale, who was public safety minister, and Amarjeet Sohi, the natural resources minister, creates two important vacancies at the cabinet table.

The cabinet reveal comes almost a month after Trudeau’s Liberals won the Oct. 21 election, although with 20 fewer seats and knocked down to a minority mandate.

Trudeau took longer this time to assemble his cabinet than he did after his election win in 2015, meaning weeks of speculation around who will move where. In that vacuum, the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan, Jason Kenney and Scott Moe, have been vocal critics of Trudeau. They are urging him to roll back tougher environmental rules around energy projects, and calling for huge infusions of money to help the oil-and-gas sector weather a downturn due to downward price pressures on western oil exports.

Sources tell the Star that Wednesday’s cabinet announcement will go some way to address western angst but cautioned that the government will be looking to take other initiatives as well to address those concerns.

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In addition to the cabinet veterans, Trudeau has some high-profile winners from last month’s election to consider. Anita Anand, a law professor at the University of Toronto, won in Oakville and is said to be someone to watch.

As well, the health woes of Winnipeg’s Jim Carr and Dominic LeBlanc, who is being treated for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, put a question mark over their spots in cabinet.

Tonda MacCharles
Bruce Campion-Smith

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