Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Head to head: How Trudeau's cabinet stacks up against Trump's

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, middle, holds a press conference as he's joined by his newly sworn in ministers.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

This article was originally posted on Jan. 10, 2017.

Justin Trudeau's cabinet makeover establishes a front line of key cabinet ministers tasked with stickhandling the vital Canada-U.S. relationship in the Donald Trump era.

Job No. 1 for these ministers will be to quickly get to know their counterparts on Team Trump, while seeking common ground on a range of potentially fractious files, including refugees, climate change and the fate of the North American free-trade agreement. They'll be dealing with individuals who are generally older, more conservative and have much longer government résumés.

Story continues below advertisement

Here's a preview of some of the key matchups, assuming the U.S. Senate confirms all of Mr. Trump's appointments:

Chrystia Freeland (Foreign Affairs) vs. Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State)

There are hundreds of points of contact in the broad and deep Canada-U.S. relationship. Few are likely to be as important as the dealings between Chrystia Freeland, 48, Canada's new minister of Foreign Affairs, and Rex Tillerson, 64, Mr. Trump's nominee for Secretary of State. Their interactions will inevitably span the gamut from Middle East peace and dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin to NAFTA – files on which they and their respective governments may have divergent views. Ms. Freeland, a former journalist, and Mr. Tillerson, the former head of ExxonMobil, do share an interest in Russia, and geopolitics more broadly. Mr. Tillerson knows Canada well, given ExxonMobil's extensive operations in Canada. But they are on opposite sides of the debate over sanctions against Russia because of its annexation of Crimea (Ms. Freeland is for them, while Mr. Tillerson has spoken against them). But all of that could pale in importance for Canada on the issue of trade, if Mr. Trump makes good on his threat to renegotiate NAFTA. Tuesday's cabinet shuffle left Ms. Freeland with primary responsibility for the Canada-U.S. trade file. Meanwhile, a key player in the relationship has yet to be named – Mr. Trump's pick for ambassador to Canada.

List: Read the full list of who's in and who's out of Trudeau's cabinet

Lawrence Martin: Trudeau cabinet shuffle: Why an overhaul was needed

François-Philippe Champagne (International Trade) vs. Robert Lighthizer (U.S. Trade Representative)

Much of the minutiae of trade will fall to François-Philippe Champagne, 46, and Robert Lighthizer, 69, both trade lawyers turned trade envoys. Mr. Champagne could easily find himself out of his depth on files such as lumber, the troubled Trans-Pacific Partnership, protectionist Buy American rules and trade with China. Mr. Lighthizer is a former top trade negotiator in the Reagan administration and veteran Washington trade lawyer, who has made a career fighting for higher import tariffs and against China's "mercantilist" trade practices. He's known as a tough negotiator with a penchant for off-colour language. Mr. Champagne is a government neophyte, elected in the Liberal wave of 2015. The Quebecker spent most of his career overseas as an in-house lawyer for multinationals, first in Zurich, for diversified industrial giant ABB Group, and then in London for Amec Foster Wheeler PLC, an engineering and project-management company. Mr. Champagne will also have to tangle with two other Trump administration trade hawks: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and National Trade Council director Peter Navarro.

Story continues below advertisement

Ralph Goodale (Public Security) vs. John Kelly (Department of Homeland Security)

The Trudeau government has one of its steadiest and most experienced ministers on the all-important border file. Ralph Goodale, 67, is a career politician who has held several key federal cabinet posts, including finance. That's a good thing because Donald Trump is talking about building a wall on the Mexican border, expelling millions of undocumented aliens and cracking down on global terrorism – policies that risk sideswiping Canada. His counterpart will be John Kelly, 66, a tough-talking retired U.S. Marine Corps general who will be Mr. Trump's wall-builder-in-chief. He has been outspoken on the threat posed by Russia as well as a more balanced approach to protecting borders that doesn't rely on "goal-line stands." Mr. Kelly will have the job of running a massive department with a $40-billion (U.S.) budget and 240,000 employees. Created after 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security encompasses antiterrorism, border security, immigration, customs, cybersecurity and disaster response. That will put some cross-border files in the hands of new Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, a Somalia-born lawyer and a Muslim.

Catherine McKenna (Environment and Climate Change) vs. Scott Pruitt (Environmental Protection Agency)

Catherine McKenna, 45, is one of the stars of the Trudeau cabinet. She has championed the government's efforts to combat climate change, including a carbon-tax deal with most provinces. She'll have her hands full with Oklahoma Attorney-General Scott Pruitt, 48, a climate-change skeptic and staunch oil-and-gas industry ally who led a legal fight against tougher federal environmental rules. As EPA head, he is expected to try to unwind many of President Barack Obama's efforts to curb greenhouse gases, including tougher regulation of power plants. Also at risk are various cross-border climate-change initiatives struck last year between the Liberal government and the Obama administration, including a joint commitment to cut methane emissions.

Jim Carr (Natural Resources) vs. Rick Perry (Energy Secretary)

Jim Carr, 65, and former Texas governor Rick Perry, 66, might well have more in common than other cross-border counterparts, including a commitment to more oil and gas pipeline capacity in North America, renewable energy and nuclear power. Mr. Perry led a push in Texas to significantly expand wind-energy capacity in recent years. Mr. Carr and Mr. Perry will have to decide what – if anything – to do about the largely dormant Canada-U.S. clean-energy dialogue, launched in 2009 by then-prime minister Stephen Harper and Mr. Obama. The effort was aimed at developing cleaner solutions for energy production, distribution and use. Unlike Mr. Carr's department, the Department of Energy is not the main U.S. energy regulator. That role belongs to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Department of Energy's core function relates to nuclear weapons and energy power generation.

Story continues below advertisement

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More

Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.