August 11th, 2023
Cabinet Shuffle Must Mean Changing Priorities, Not Just Changing Faces
At the end of July, the Prime Minister made some significant changes to his cabinet. While cabinet shuffles are a fairly normal part of governing, this particular shuffle has felt a little different. It’s clear that there are several big files important to Canadians that need to be focused on, such as the cost of food and housing, climate change and the transition to a clean energy economy, as well as the challenges in health care. It’s obvious that these issues have not received the attention they have needed or deserved recently, and if this cabinet shuffle signals anything, it’s that the Prime Minister is finally realizing that his government must reset its agenda and address these key concerns with real action or risk the electoral consequences.
What’s often interesting in Cabinet shuffles are not the new faces being given Ministerial responsibility, but those who’ve lost it. Seven former Ministers are no longer in Cabinet, including Omar Alghabra, Joyce Murray, Helena Jaczek, Carolyn Bennett, Marco Mendicino, David Lametti, and Mona Fortier. While Murray, Jaczek, Bennett, and Alghabra have announced they will not be running for re-election, Fortier, the former President of the Treasury Board, Lametti, the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General, and Mendicino, the former Public Safety Minister, have been released from Cabinet without new portfolios.
While clearly these are difficult portfolios, there have been some problems in each that needed to be addressed sooner, or just handled better. Bail reform has been a big issue on the justice file, and proposed reforms have been slow to materialize. Fortier, as Treasury Board Minister, was responsible for negotiating on behalf of the government with public servants a few months back, which resulted in the largest public union strike in Canadian history.
However, the most obvious change to cabinet was in Public Safety, where several large, important files were clearly mishandled this year by former Minister Mendicino: from the inexplicable last-minute amendments to the government’s handgun bill, C-21, that were eventually repealed and justifiably frustrated hunters, farmers, and sport shooters; the mishandling of foreign interference allegations; and more recently, the refusal to negotiate fair contracts with First Nations Police Services. These were important matters that required a deft hand to navigate, and instead were fraught with ongoing controversies. This file is now being handled by Minister Dominic Leblanc, who has served in the House of Commons for over two decades, seemingly signaling the importance of the file, and the need for a steady hand to right the ship.
On a similar token, it does feel that the government is putting their experienced MPs in front of those files that clearly need the most care. Mark Holland, who has previously served as the Government House Leader, has now been placed in charge of Health. Sean Fraser, generally seen as a rising star in the House of Commons, is now the Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities. Pablo Rodriguez, who has previously acted as Government Whip, House Leader, and Minister of Canadian Heritage, has taken over for Transport, which has been a contentious file in the past few years, particularly with regards to airline travel coming off the back of the pandemic.
There remains only eight Ministers who have retained their portfolios, including Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, and Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu.
It’s evident that the Prime Minister realized that his government needed a major reset on a number of key files. We are still in the midst of the worst forest fire season on record. While inflation has leveled out on most consumer items, two of the most important, food and housing, remain wildly high. Health care continues to be a challenge across the country, with consistent surgery backlogs and shuttering emergency rooms becoming all too normal. The government needs to give these issues the attention they deserve, however it remains to be seen if the new structure of Cabinet will help correct course and push these matters to the front of the table.