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Trudeau cabinet shuffle: Why an overhaul was needed

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet remake adds more youth, drops more aging white men and brings to the Liberal forefront a new little guy from Shawinigan. The shuffle provides under-performing ministries with some much needed reupholstering. Or so it is hoped. And it readies the Trudeau team – or so it is hoped – for potentially disruptive changes in the continental and world order brought on by the U.S. election of Donald Trump.

The changes to the executive – which are numerous considering the government has only been in power for 15 months – come at a time when the Trudeau ship, despite enjoying high popularity, has been listing. A sense of direction had to be reasserted.

Until new faces are seen in action, no one can say if the cabinet changes are of high quality. But some of the more obvious trouble spots have been attended to. Stéphane Dion, a politician of great integrity, was never a good fit for global affairs. He's not diplomatic, he's old school, his English is awkward, he's stubborn. In the Trump era, more zip and agile thinking is needed.

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While not the smoothest performer in front of a microphone for a top diplomat's job, Chrystia Freeland, the big winner in the shuffle, brings wide-ranging international experience to the post. She has worked in Russia, Britain and New York. She knows Washington, and, having written a book called Plutocrats, she is familiar with the moneyed tycoons she'll be dealing with on the Trump team.

With protectionist tides rising, the trade portfolio has become a vital one. Into that slot comes a potential new star in the Liberal pantheon. François-Philippe Champagne, who represents Jean Chrétien's old Quebec riding, is a former engineering company executive who was based in London. The diminutive, 46-year-old, trilingual lawyer was one of 40 people on the planet, along with the likes of actor Leonardo DiCaprio and journalist Anderson Cooper, designated as "a young global leader" by the World Economic Forum in 2009. He's been serving as parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Bill Morneau and makes no bones about wanting to follow in Mr. Chrétien's footsteps.

If there are surprises in the reset, one is that Transport Minister Marc Garneau didn't get a promotion. He would have been a fine fit for global affairs or trade. But the older generation is not particularly welcome in this new-age Trudeau team. It is a government saddled with tenderfoot Bardish Chagger, 36, in the important role of House leader. A change there would have been welcome. She does not have the heft for the job.

Mr. Trudeau's shuffle makes a young cabinet even younger and more diversified. Mr. Dion is 61 and joining him on the sidelines is veteran John McCallum, 65, who did good work on refugees in the Immigration portfolio and now moves to a critically important posting as ambassador to China. Moving to Immigration is Ahmed Hussen, 40, the country's first Somali-Canadian MP. He arrived on these shores alone at age 16 and got a job pumping gas. He became a community organizer, a lawyer and was tagged by a Toronto newspaper in 2004 as a star of the future.

New rookie faces can be fodder for rookie blunders, but obviously Mr. Trudeau doesn't mind taking such chances. The Democratic Institutions file has been a burden for the Prime Minister since Day One. He's to blame as much as anyone, because of his brain-hurting changing of signals on how to enact his promised electoral reform. But in the portfolio, Maryam Monsef's inexperience compounded the stress. Replacing her is another rookie, Burlington, Ont., MP Karina Gould. The Oxford University graduate is only 29, making her one of the youngest Liberal cabinet ministers ever. Moving to the Labour portfolio is Patty Hajdu. In replacing MaryAnn Mihychuk, she does not have a tough act to follow.

In the most important cabinet portfolio – that of Finance – Bill Morneau, as expected, stays put. His coming budget will be more important than anything these new cabinet faces do. The emerging deficit is this government's trouble spot. To ward off fears of a runaway deficit train, he has to provide target dates for bringing the budget to balance.

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About the Author
Public affairs columnist

Lawrence Martin is an Ottawa-based public affairs columnist and the author of ten books, including six national best sellers. More

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