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The ONW Salon: The Trudeau Cabinet Shuffle

At a time when one of the most controversial politicians - Donald Trump - is about to resume the mantle of President of the United States and leader of the free world, Justin Trudeau has moved major ministers in and out of his cabinet. What do the new cabinet appointments mean for Canada's upcoming political agenda? We asked veteran political analysts Scott Reid, John Capobianco and Tom Parkin.



Scott Reid:

Donald Trump is the most disruptive - and potentially destructive - force to hit global politics in decades. And this cabinet shuffle is recognition of the fact that his full effect will be felt here at home.

Full credit to Trudeau and his team for recognizing that Trump's election has the potential to become the defining event of Trudeau's first term and taking action in response.

The prime minister has picked a small circle with safe hands. Freeland. MacNaughton. PMO. This is the team.

More than even usual, this shuffle offers us a real peek inside the mind of the Prime Minister and his closest advisors. There can be no true plan for dealing with Trump. He is simply too unpredictable. As a consequence, all you can do is prepare as best as possible by putting in place the people in whom you have the greatest trust.

What this shuffle tells us is that faced with an imponderable set of risks and a renegade in the White House, Trudeau is turning to Chrystia Freeland in foreign affairs.  Not since Brian Mulroney turned to Joe Clark in the aftermath of Meech's defeat has a prime minister so overtly expressed his confidence in a single minister. This is history happening.


Tom Parkin:

Don’t be misdirected by the hand pointing at Trump. Look at the other hand – this shuffle is about China.

Three old ministers are out, three have been transferred. Three rookies have been brought in.

Stephan Dion, former Liberal leader, is out. Tuesday’s Globe and Mail reported he would be appointed Ambassador to France. By 11:00 am, a new leak, this time to the CBC, reported Dion would be upgraded to Ambassador to Germany and the European Union. At about 11:30 am, a CTV report quoted a personal source as saying Mr. Dion was considering offers, “no decision yet.” Clearly he’s not pleased at being shoved aside.

John McCallum, who was a TD Bank executive before political life as a Chretien Minister, is out – and will be Ambassador to China. He had been Immigration Minister and had visited China in August. From there he will no doubt support Canadian’s entry into the AIIB, (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) which privately finances development in Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Tajikistan.

Chrystia Freeland is out as Trade Minister and moved to Global Affairs – what we mortals call foreign affairs. This means McCallum and Dion now report to Freeland. Freeland will continue to push the Canada-Europe CETA and a China-Canada trade deal.

Freeland’s move may also suggest that, after some talks between Liberal PMO staff and Trump staff, the view is that trouble is coming in the Trade portfolio and a star like Freeland needs to be protected from the wreckage.

Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk, a former NDP cabinet minister in Manitoba, is also out – but there’s no manna in heaven for her. She’s been put on the backbench. Mihychuk sealed her fate in October when she sided with the Labours’ Union (LIUNA) and called for a review of the Temporary Foreign Worker program to ensure Canadians have a first shot at jobs. That put her in direct conflict with the view, expressed in August by then Immigration Minister McCallum when in China, that “some of the barriers and silly rules” of temporary foreign workers in Canada should be nixed. China’s ambassador to Canada has made no bones about wanting looser rules for Chinese nationals to work on projects in Canada.

Monsef is out at Democratic Institutions – demoted to Minister for the Status of Women. Patty Hajdu, formerly at Status of Women, takes Mihychuk’s place at Labour. We’ll see if she repeats any pledges to LIUNA. Karina Gould is the new Minister of Democratic Institutions.

The new Minister of Immigration, replacing McCallum, is Ahmed Hussen, a former issues management staffer in Premier Dalton McGuinty’s office. Perhaps there he would have connected with PMO top aide Gerald Butts, who also used to work in McGuinty’s office. Hopefully this doesn’t signal even more of the McGuinity style.

An interesting addition is Francois-Philipe Champagne, MP from Shawinigan, who becomes Minister of Trade. Champagne comes from fine Liberal heritage, his father, Gilles, reportedly having been a fundraiser for former PM Jean Chretien. Gilles Champagne came to public attention 15 years ago when, under Chretien, the Export Development Bank extended a $10 million loan to a Brazil’s Petrobas to buy goods from EARTH Canada, a company developing oil spill clean-up products. Shortly before receiving the Petrobas guarantee, Gilles Champagne had been named chairman of EARTH Canada. Gilles Champagne is now Chair of the Board of Bionest Technologies. The home rink of the Shawinigan Cataractes is the Bionest Centre. Francois-Philipe Champagne is also an executive, most recently working for AMEC, a London-based engineering and project management consultancy.

Some moves are convenience and shuffling the deck. But we can see a theme here - getting ready for China trade.



One key takeaway from this shuffle is what Scott alludes to in his submission above, which is PM Trudeau’s recognition that with Trump coming in as the President in two weeks, things are not going to be as sunny with the U.S. as they were temporarily with President Obama. Huge recognition that the players need to change to match the line-up change from the bigger opponent, as is normal with any good hockey team.

More on this later, but I want to also mention the other significant takeaway from this shuffle and that is the PM’s acknowledgement that the democratic file has been a disaster and the past year has been wasted on a very key election platform, which was to change the voting system in Canada in time for the next election - now just shy of three years away.

I do applaud the PM for making this move as it is never easy changing the cabinet and doing so with just over a year under his belt is tough. But the timing was right with the inauguration coming up and the House coming back at the end of this month. Tom goes through the changes in his submission so I won’t get into the other moves other than to say it was a small shuffle by standards of past shuffles, but the message was by no means small.

The next year will be critical as regards to how our government handles the new U.S. administration on all sorts of bi-lateral issues, but most importantly trade, which is why it was leaked this week that the PM's top advisors along with our Ambassador to the U.S. had "secret" meetings with key Trump personnel. Important to build those relations now and to get the new foreign affairs minister over there to start to build that bridge.


Scott Reid:

Notwithstanding Tom's slightly 1917-ish manifesto against trade, jobs and growth, he's onto something with his focus.

The shuffle is all about protecting Canada from the cancer of protectionism. Canada is a small country that relies on a rules-based international order to deliver some hope at prosperity.

Trump is an unapologetic opponent of rules. He wants to reign by tweet and threat, pissing poison at any company that builds a plant outside of the United States. This is a gigantic threat to our national wellbeing.

So John is dead right. This isn't a small shuffle. It's a huge deal.


Tom Parkin:

I'll just take a pass on Scott's slur against me for which he offers no evidence.  Though that seems to be the style of the times.

The unfortunate fact is that it seems the Trudeau government has no strategy to protect trade and jobs from Trump. The Trudeau government has offered to renegotiate NAFTA. But nowhere have they said anything about their objectives in those negotiations. My concern is that they are about to make concessions and dress it up as a win.

Likewise, the elements of Trudeau's China strategy have never been articulated by Trudeau. They come out as unconnected pieces, but the stem from an old Liberal source.

The Canada-China Business Council is, and long has been, very, very tightly connected to the Demarais family, owners of Power Corp. Andre Demarias, the co-CEO, is of course, the honourary chair of the CCBC. Power Corp. board member Peter Harder, who was chair of Trudeau’s transition team, was a CCBC board member until September last year. The current CCBC chair is Peter Kruyt, a Power Corp. Vice-President, and one of the Liberal donors invited to an official dinner in honour of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang last September.

Power Corp. and Bombardier have been pursuing investment openings in China for a long while. And while this might be great for those companies and those families, it's not clear what that China strategy gets for Canadians. The Panama Papers leak revealed Power Corp. was setting up tax haven for subsidiaries Power owned - almost $1 billion in CITIC Pacific, 35% owner of Wal-Mart China. Demarais sat on the CITIC board. In partnership with Bombardier, Power Corp. built rail cars in China.

This isn't about trade with China. This is about investment and production with China.

There's nothing in here about confronting Trump or trying to change his strategy. There's nothing here that suggests a plan to work with others to stop the first protectionist brick form being thrown. This is the old Liberals and old Liberal money reasserting itself. Not so progressive.


John Capobianco:

Tom's point about the PM not having a strategy to deal with the U.S. on trade looks to be true as I think he and his advisors, like most people in Ottawa, thought Clinton would win and it would be a continuation of Obama-like policies and cozy relationships.

This shuffle and the recent meetings in the U.S. with key advisors clearly indicate catch up strategy to first get a sense of what soon-to-be President Trump means when he talks about America First and ripping up NAFTA.

Secondly, it is to ensure Canada doesn't get left out of any potential negotiations if trade deals are to be reviewed or torn up as Trump has said time and time again during the campaign.

This shuffle sets the tone for this coming year and we'll see if the change to having Minister Freeland as the point guard with the U.S. will work or not. The PM was right to assume Dion would not have worked, but Minister Freeland will need to deliver and I suspect Trump will let it be known quite publically if it doesn't work.


Scott Reid is a Principal at the communications consultancy Feschuk.Reid and served as Senior Advisor and Director of Communications to Prime Minister Paul Martin. John Capobianco is a Senior Partner and National Public Affairs Lead at FleishmanHillard. He has been a Conservative strategist with over 30 years of political activism at all three levels, including as a former federal Conservative candidate. Tom Parkin is a veteran NDP strategist and a frequent commentator on national issues. 




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