Canada's Trudeau unveils new cabinet with focus on domestic issues

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a meeting with Conservative Party leader and Leader of the Official Opposition Andrew Scheer on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario Canada November 12, 2019. Photograph:( Reuters )

AFP Ottawa, Canada Nov 21, 2019, 08.57 AM (IST)

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled an inward-looking cabinet Wednesday, with rising star Chrystia Freeland swapping foreign affairs for a new role healing the country's internal divisions.

The former foreign minister has been promoted to deputy leader tasked, alongside new Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, with wooing western provinces alienated by Ottawa's environmental policies.

Trudeau expanded his cabinet to a slightly larger 36 members after the Liberals lost 20 seats on October 21, reducing a once-mighty juggernaut to a minority government.

The laundry list of looming issues is also longer and more complex than when Trudeau took office in 2015, including a slowing economy and geographic political divisions.

One particular worry for his chastened Liberals is the emergence of a separatist movement in the western province of Alberta, where the party was shut out at the ballot box.

Climate change emerged as one of the few galvanizing issues in the election, with two-thirds of Canadians voting for parties promising a tougher response.

But oil-rich provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan have rejected a federal carbon tax -- one of the few of its scope in the world -- unveiled earlier this year.

"As we move forward on issues that matter across the country like energy and environment and other large issues, we will have to engage in a strong and positive way with different orders of government right across the country," said Trudeau. 

"I am very much looking forward to doing that with Chrystia by my side," he said, to help bridge "very different perspectives across the country."

Watch: Justin Trudeau set to begin second term as PM

Then and now

Trudeau exploded onto the world stage in 2015 as a strong liberal voice and a counterbalance to the rising right, declaring: "Canada is back!"

But the debonair world statesman faces an emboldened opposition at home, making every vote in parliament count.

The outlook is further complicated by a resurgence in chauvinism in the French-speaking province of Quebec that has triggered a revival of the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

In Ottawa, the government's fortunes have been placed in the hands of veteran MP Pablo Rodriguez.

As House leader, Rodriguez will have to negotiate with a fractious parliament to push the government's agenda, which will be unveiled in detail on December 5. A middle-class tax cut will be the first order of business, Trudeau said.

On the international stage, Freeland's replacement Francois-Philippe Champagne will have to deal with a diplomatic and trade row with China.

Freeland, however, will continue to nurture Canada's key relationship with the United States and handle ratification of a new continental trade pact with its neighbour and Mexico.

Trudeau noted that Canadian businesses benefit tremendously from trade with China, but said his government would "stand up" to Beijing over its "arbitrary detention" of two Canadians in apparent retaliation over the arrest on a US warrant of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver last December.

Several ministers in Trudeau's previous cabinet kept their jobs in the shuffle: David Lametti remains justice minister, Bill Morneau keeps his finance portfolio and Harjit Sajjan stays at defence.

Former cop Bill Blair was made public safety minister, and will work on tougher gun-control measures.

Newcomer to the cabinet, Marco Mendicino, becomes immigration minister, while Mary Ng adds trade to her official duties.