Ensight’s Cabinet Shuffle Political Update
Trudeau Retools Cabinet In Advance Of Fall Parliamentary Session
With the next federal election about to be closer than the last one that brought the Liberals to power, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shuffled his Cabinet to focus on the unfinished items on the Liberal agenda and fight off attacks from two new opposition party leaders.
Trudeau orchestrated a shuffle early this year in order to recalibrate and position the Cabinet to manage Canada’s relationship with the Trump administration, but this latest shuffle represents something different. This is, in fact, a proactive shift introduced by the Prime Minister to put his government in the best position to deliver on specific priorities he deems critical to the next election, including Indigenous Affairs and Veterans Affairs. It should be noted this won’t be the last Cabinet shuffle before the next election, as a number of veteran Liberal ministers are expected to step aside in advance of the campaign.
At the centre of this shuffle is Minister Jane Philpott, a position she finds herself in for all the right reasons considering her stellar track record at Health Canada. From her deft and swift handling of the opioids crisis to making Health Accord deals with all provinces and territories, her work and activism have been effective and popular. However, industry has been consulted less vigorously under her leadership than in previous governments. Her personal passion for the Indigenous health file has been something she has spoken on many times, and she put her passion to work in partnering with Justice on the physician-assisted death and cannabis files. Her ability to partner with fellow ministers bodes well as she prepares to begin her mandate as it relates to the altered role of Dr. Carolyn Bennett as Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Minister.
Bennett is a 20-year veteran Parliamentarian whose important role will get an expanded support team within Cabinet. She has a personal passion for her work, built on some strong partnerships she has made over the years with First Nations, Métis and Inuit groups across the country. While Bennett’s retirement may yet come – for now, she will continue to advance this key portfolio for the Prime Minister.
Seamus O’Regan, who has been preparing to host Cabinet at a retreat in his riding of St. John’s South—Mount Pearl next month, is another major player today as a new entrant to the Cabinet table. Well-known as a CTV broadcaster, O’Regan is one of the Prime Minister’s best friends, a groomsmen at his wedding, and a close personal confidant. His ability to communicate will be critical in his new role as Veterans Affairs Minister and Associate Minister of National Defence, which was a portfolio that created a plethora of problems for the Harper government. Putting a renewed vigour into the veterans file will strongly signal that Liberals remain committed to the “sacred obligation” promises they included in their last platform. O’Regan’s strengths as a communicator will also help take some of the burden off Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who has been embroiled in controversy at moments. O’Regan’s public effort to overcome alcohol dependency has transformed him into a comeback story, and he has worked closely with the PMO to help organize the Irish Prime Minister’s visit to Canada.
Another new member of Cabinet is Ginette Petitpas Taylor. Having already served as the Deputy Government Whip and then as Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau – Petitpas Taylor will be seen as a solid choice to expand the Cabinet. In the Atlantic provinces, Liberals currently have all the seats, and adding Ministers to give further recognition to that fact is something that Atlantic MPs will be pleased to see. The Health Minister role has a particularly high bar to meet following on the heels of Philpott’s tenure. She has succeeded in these two previous roles, yet this will bring the stakes to a higher level for her political future.
Meanwhile, former Paralympian and human rights lawyer Minister Qualtrough will be moving within Cabinet to take over as Minister of Public Services and Procurement. In her current portfolio as Minister of Sport & Persons with Disabilities, she has been busy traveling across the country for consultations on services for persons with disabilities, has been involved with the B.C. wildfire response effort, and has been working to develop a Canadians with Disabilities Act. She will now turn her proactive work ethic toward the challenges existing at Public Services and Procurement, including the embattled Phoenix pay system and procurement of replacement fighter jets. With a new NDP-Green provincial government and some polls showing federal Liberal slippage in British Columbia, keeping a tough riding like Delta is an electoral priority to show strength in the lower mainland’s outskirts.
Finally, Minister Kent Hehr will vacate his portfolio as Veterans Affairs Minister and Associate Minister of Defence to make way for O’Regan. However, the move to Minister of Sport & Persons with Disabilities comes with its benefits for Hehr, who was a noted athlete who remains passionate about sport. His new role may also provide him with more time to focus on getting re-elected in Calgary in 2019. He is the first Liberal Calgary MP since the 1970s.
New ministers will receive mandate letters, signalling updated priorities, from the Prime Minister in the weeks ahead.
Insights and Biographical Notes
Hon. Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister to National Defence
- O’Regan’s appointment ensures Newfoundland and Labrador retains a voice at the Cabinet table in the wake of Judy Foote’s resignation from her post at Public Services and Procurement.
- The former broadcaster is a close personal friend of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who notably made a public show of support for O’Regan in 2015 when he announced he would seek help for alcohol dependence.
- Veterans Affairs Canada’s headquarters are located in Charlottetown PEI, and several Atlantic Canadian politicians have been called on to lead the department in the past, such as Greg Thompson, Doug Young and Gerald Merrithew.
O’Regan is well known to Canadians as the long-time host of CTV’s Canada AM and as a national reporter for the network.
Born in St. John’s and raised in Labrador, O’Regan worked for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador as an advisor to the Premier and to the Minister of Justice. He also served as Executive Vice President, Communications, at The Stronach Group of Companies, and was noted for his role of Ambassador for Bell’s Let’s Talk mental health awareness campaign.
As MP for St. John’s South—Mount Pearl (Newfoundland and Labrador), O’Regan has been a member of the House of Commons’ Canadian Heritage committee and he is a members of the Canada-Ireland Interparliamentary Group.
O’Regan made headlines when he proactively sought treatment for alcohol dependence shortly after he was elected in 2015, and he was also named in the scandal surrounding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Christmas vacation on the private island of the Aga Khan.
Hon. Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health
- Petitpas Taylor is a gifted communicator in French and English, and she put those skills to great use as Parliamentary Secretary to Finance Minister Bill Morneau. She was notably instrumental in various consultations across the country, including those held for Budget 2017.
- Petitpas Taylor is a noted advocate on women’s issues whose ability to connect with her own community in Southeastern New Brunswick has translated well to the federal political scene. Her riding is adjacent to the Beausejour riding of Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, with whom she has a productive working dynamic.
- A noted community volunteer and advocate, Petitpas Taylor burst into federal politics when she shocked local Liberals and defeated former Moncton mayor George LeBlanc to win the Liberal nomination and help lead the red wave that covered every corner of Atlantic Canada in 2015.
Ginette Petitpas Taylor’s background in social work led her to a 23-year career as an RCMP Victim Services Coordinator where she provided crisis and domestic violence counselling. She is a noted volunteer with the Coalition Against Abuse in Relationships, the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Suicide Prevention Committee, she served on the City of Moncton’s Public Safety Advisory Committee, and she has been chair of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
Hon. Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services
- Philpott has been one of the Prime Minister’s most competent and trusted ministers, and her shift in responsibilities reflects the continued importance the government is placing on Indigenous Affairs.
- A medical doctor, Philpott has been noted as an activist minister at the helm of Health Canada.
- Philpott has led a number of pan-Canadian consultation processes, and has worked closely with provinces and fellow ministers on a number of high-stakes issues like the opioid crisis, physician-assisted death and the development of a legal cannabis regime.
Prior to her career in politics, Dr. Philpott has been an accomplished medical physician with many accomplishments in the fields of family medicine, public health, medical education and advocacy for HIV/AIDS.
She worked in Niger from 1989 to 1998 where she practiced medicine and established a medical training program. Back in Canada, she founded Give a Day to World AIDS in 2004, a charity which has raised over $4 million.
Hon. Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement
- Qualtrough’s success as Minister of Sport & Persons with Disabilities has put her in position to take on this new challenge with added responsibilities.
- Qualtrough’s promotion is a nod to the importance of her riding in the West Coast election strategy of the Liberal party. Delta is an important British Columbia riding for a Liberal government that is hoping to hold on to its recent electoral breakthrough in the next general election.
- She bolstered the Prime Minister’s confidence in her abilities by showing great poise and competence during the recent wildfires in British Columbia.
The MP for Delta led a successful human rights law career in British Columbia in addition to her athletic career and volunteer advocacy initiatives. Qualtrough has been visually impaired since birth, a challenge that did not prevent her from becoming a successful Paralympic swimmer. That success paved the way for her involvement with the Toronto 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games, and her former role as president of the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Chair of the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada.
Hon. Kent Hehr, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities
- Hehr is the first Liberal from Calgary to sit in Cabinet since 1972.
- The minister’s successful career in provincial politics has helped to prepare his path to the Trudeau Cabinet.
- In his new role, Hehr can draw on his personal experience as a Canadian living with a disability caused by a spinal cord injury.
Hehr practiced law at a well-known national firm, worked with the United Way and led the Alberta branch of the Canadian Paraplegic Association. He was known as a hard-working Alberta MLA where his priorities revolved around the management of the province’s budget, natural resources, public education and LGBTQ issues.
Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs
- Contrary to speculation, her inclusion in this shuffle would indicate that she is not resigning anytime soon.
- Carolyn has a solid relationship with her department, and firm relationships with Chiefs across the country, which is a testament to her work when she was the Liberal critic.
- Her experience as a doctor will pair well with Dr. Philipott and signals a continued focus on historically underserved communities.
Carolyn Bennett was first elected in 1997 and prior to her election she was a family physician and a founding partner of Bedford Medical Associates in Toronto.
In 2003 Prime Minister Paul Martin appointed Bennett as the first ever Minister of State for Public Health, a role in which she set up the Public Health Agency of Canada, appointed the first Chief Public Health Officer for Canada, and established the Public Health Network.