Sweeping federal cabinet shuffle

After only 21 months heading the Department of National Defence, Toronto MP Anita Anand was replaced in a major federal cabinet shuffle July 26 by another Toronto MP, Bill Blair, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau focused his government more on Canada’s economic challenges ahead of the next election which officially isn’t due until late 2025.

Overall, Trudeau dropped seven veterans from his cabinet – and appointed seven newcomers -- as he promised to tackle the country’s “affordability” issues as the minority Liberal government, supported by the New Democratic Party, seems to be losing to the Conservatives in the latest public opinion polls.

Four ministers had announced two days earlier that they would be stepping down. They included three from Toronto -- Omar Alghabra from Transport, Helena Jaczek from Public Services & Procurement Canada (PSPC), and Carolyn Bennett from Mental Health & Addictions (MHA) as well as being Associate Health Minister. The fourth is Joyce Murray of Vancouver from Fisheries & Oceans where she also was responsible for the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG).

Alghabra is replaced at Transport by former Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez who doubles as Trudeau’s Quebec liutenant, Jaczek at PSPC by former Health Minister Jean Yves Duclos, and Bennett at MHA by newcomer Ya’ara Saks, who also is Associate Minister Health. Murray is replaced by former Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier.

The three others whose departure from cabinet was evident on shuffle day were Marco Mendicino (Toronto) from Public Safety, David Lametti (Montreal) from Justice, and Mona Fortier (Ottawa) from Treasury Board.

Lametti, who evidently was blind-sided by the PM;s decision, is succeeded by a cabinet newcomer, fellow Toronto MP Ariv Virani, first elected in 2015. He has been a parliamentary secretary to several ministers, most recently to Lametti, and his committee roles included a review of the government’s unprecedented used of the Emergencies Act during the 2022 “Freedom Convoy” protests which paralyzed Ottawa and blocked the Alberta-Montana and Windsor-New York border crossings in early.

Mendicino has been replaced in the Public Safety role by Dominic LeBlanc, who also retains his responsibilities for Democratic Institutions and Intergovernmental Affairs, while Fortier’s replacement is another Ottawa MP, former city councillor Jenna Sudds, first elected in 2021.

Overall, only seven portfolios were unaffected by the shuffle which also saw some portfolios renamed: Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Finance; Melanie Joly, Foreign Affairs; Phillipe François Phillipe Champagne, Innovation, Science & Industry; Steven Guilbeault, Environment & Climate Change; Patty Hajdu, Indigenous Services; Marci Ien, Women & Gender Equality & Youth; and Filomena Tassi, Federal Economic Development Agency for southern Ontario.

(Former Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who was shuffled out of that portfolio after six years in October 2021, has been replaced by Ahmed Hussen, formerly Minister of Housing, Diversity & Inclusion. Sajjan now is President of the Privy Council and Minister of Emergency Preparedness with responsibility for the Pacific Economic Development Agency).

Blair, 69, is a former Toronto Police Chief who entered federal politics in 2015 but was not appointed to cabinet until July 2019 when he became Minister of Border Security & Organized Crime and then Minister of Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness that November, a role which included managing the government’s pandemic-driven border closures.

He was then appointed President of the Privy Council President and Minister of Emergency Preparedness (dropping the Public Safety title) in October 2021. He played a key coordination role in the Canadian Armed Forces’ rescue and relief operations in British Columbia a month later when the region was slammed by torrential rains that resulted in widespread flooding and landslides.

Similarly, he had a high profile in the federal response to the February 2022 “Freedom Convoy” protests and, again, in September 2022, in the federal response to Hurricane Flora’s impact on Atlantic Canada.

Anand’s reassignment as President of the Treasury Board underscores the government’s economic focus. A University of Toronto law professor and now 56, she was a rookie MP when appointed to head Public Services & Procurement Canada (PSPC) in November 2019, a month after her election. PSPC’s role in managing military acquisitions, helped to prepare her for her move to DND in October 2021 and involvement in NATO’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine just four months later.

Her transfer to Treasury Board -- where she will effectively preside over a committee which manages government spending and how it handles overall management and regulation -- is seen by some as positioning her to contest the Liberal Party leadership should Trudeau retire and the currently perceived front-runner, Freeland, eventually takes up a long-rumoured international post.

In another defence-related appointment, Ginette Petitpas Taylor has been named Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Defence Minister, replacing Lawrence MacAuley, who has been moved to Agriculture & Agri-Food.