These are the new faces of Trudeau’s refreshed cabinet
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced new changes to his cabinet this afternoon, with an eye to preparing his government for the incoming Trump administration.
Between the foreign affairs minister who’s banned from Russia to the new ambassador to the European Union who hasn’t even accepted the job yet, here’s what you need to know about the new team around Trudeau.
Chrystia Freeland, Foreign affairs
Freeland (pictured above) just got a huge promotion.
A media executive for news giant Thompson-Reuters and author on the topic of inequality — once described as a “wealth-chronicler” — Freeland is a solid progressive on Trudeau’s benches and, behind closed doors, appears flabbergasted with the Trump rise to power.
Nevertheless, she’s going to be the one to not only handle the alt-right administration to the south, but manage Canada’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, normalize some relations with Iran, and possibly even look into dropping sanctions against Russia in tandem with Washington — a prospect that will be complicated by the fact that Freeland is, herself, subject to a Russian travel ban as a part of those quid-pro-quo sanctions.
Freeland speaks Russian, Polish, Italian, Ukrainian, and is passable in French.
François-Philippe Champagne, International Trade
Champagne was elected for the first time in 2015, in the same riding as former Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Before that, he was a development director for a large engineering firm based in the United Kingdom, and has been tapped as a ‘young global leader’ by the World Economic Forum.
For the past year, he’s been parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance and he’s not exactly made waves. Nevertheless, the government undoubtedly has some confidence in him, given that he’ll now be tasked with getting the massive Canada-Europe trade deal across the finish line, trying to revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership — which Donald Trump has sworn to kill — and setting up talks for an unprecedented deal between Ottawa and Beijing.
He speaks English, French, and Italian.
Patty Hajdu, Labour
Hajdu has impressed her bosses by stickhandling the government’s inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women.
She was well-suited to the job. She had, prior to her 2015 election, run a homeless shelter in Thunder Bay and helped spearhead drug prevention and mitigation initiatives in Northern Ontario.
But the ministry is small compared to Labour, where Hajdu is taking over for MaryAnn Mihychuk, who was not popular with her superiors and was booted out of cabinet altogether.
The gig is not exactly a top-tier job, but there’s plenty of work to be done. Under Mihychuk, the government sought to soften the blow for Albertan workers thrown out of the job by tanking oil prices and moved to encourage pay equity in federally-regulated industries.
Maryam Monsef, Status of women
Monsef is being removed from her post as democratic reform minister, where she was responsible for overhauling Canada’s voting system, and being installed as minister for the status of women.
While the job has become more high profile under Trudeau, a self-avowed feminist, the job comes with no formal office, few actual programs, and a measly budget. It is, for Monsef, a demotion.
Monsef’s performance review from her previous gig has been less than stellar. It is widely viewed that she bungled the first steps of picking a new voting system in advance of the 2019 election.
Yet it would be hard to lay the blame for Monsef’s reform folly on the minister herself. Monsef’s smiling refusal to hold a referendum on the yet-to-be-announced system, or her rejection of an all-party committee report recommending the changes were undoubtedly decisions made by ‘the centre’ — Trudeau and his advisors — as much as it was her fault specifically.
Karina Gould, Democratic institutions
Gould, at 29, will be the youngest member of the cabinet.
She’s spent the past year serving as parliamentary secretary to the minister of international development — her background is in trade, development, and international relations — and has no real chops on democratic reform.
Trudeau’s decision to tap an inexperienced minister with little background in democratic reform (again) signals that the prime minister isn’t planning a total about-face on the problematic file.
Ahmed Hussen, Immigration, refugees and citizenship
Hussen takes over a job that could either become crucially important in the next few years, or that may simply decline in stature.
Under erstwhile Minister John McCallum, Canada welcomed nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees through a program that — all things considered — went quite smoothly. While there are still fears that some of those refugees could fall through the cracks, and into poverty, there is a belief that their arrival has gone relatively well.
And Hussen has experience that will help him understand those problems — he’s former President of the Canadian Somali Congress and, himself, a Somali refugee.
Under McCallum’s tenure, an expert panel recommended upping Canada’s immigration levels by some 150,000 by 2021 — a proposal that McCallum seemed cool to, but did not shut the door on.
Hussen will ultimately decide on whether Ottawa should proceed on that.
Stephane Dion and John McCallum
Trudeau’s team seems set to turn the former ministers into a world trade team tag, sending McCallum to China to help strike a free trade deal and dispatching Dion to Brussels to manage the final stages of the Canada-Europe free trade agreement.
Dion, however, has yet to accept the Brussels gig. While Trudeau’s statement about the shuffle announced McCallum’s new assignment, insisting that “the Canada-China relationship will be well served by such a strong presence from our government,” his comments on Dion were more succinct.
“I know I will be able to continue to count on his wisdom and his tireless service, and look forward to the next chapter of Mr. Dion’s contributions to our country,” Trudeau said.
A statement sent to reporters from Dion, sent from his office, is far from clear.
“Now, I shall deploy my efforts outside active politics,” Dion said in the statement. “I have enjoyed political life, especially when I was able to make a difference to benefit my fellow citizens. I emerge full of energy … renewable! But politics is not the only way to serve one’s country. Fortunately!”
Cover: Photo by Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press