In the first major shake-up of his year-old government, Justin Trudeau is retiring his foreign affairs minister and bringing in new blood to deal with the incoming Trump administration, if reports are accurate.
Chrystia Freeland, former managing director of Thompson-Reuters and noted author on the subject of income inequality, will become Canada’s new foreign minister and will be the main point of contact for the new establishment in Washington, according to a list being circulated to media outlets in Canada.
There had been concerns that her bookish predecessor, Stephane Dion, who is being removed from that post and said to be taking a diplomatic post, did not have the temperament to deal with Trump’s staff or Rex Tillerson, the oil executive tapped to be his secretary of state.
One big hurdle that Freeland might face — especially as Canada signals it may attempt to normalize relations with the Kremlin — is the fact that Freeland is still banned from Russia. Thanks to tit-for-tat diplomatic sanctions traded between the two nations, as fallout of Russian seizure of Crimea and incursion into east Ukraine, Freeland is persona non grata in the country
Freeland’s vacant post as trade minister will reportedly be filled by political neophyte François-Philippe Champagne.
Dion, former leader of his party, is not the only veteran leaving the federal Parliament. John McCallum, Trudeau’s immigration minister who oversaw the intake of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, is reportedly being tapped to become ambassador to China. He’ll likely be tasked with getting a trade deal inked with Beijing — a potentially perilous plan that the Trudeau team hopes will offset any negative impacts on Canada that may come from growing isolationism in the United States and Europe.
Overall, the rumoured shuffle amounts to a recalibration of strategy in the face of Trump’s upset victory.
Trudeau’s senior advisor, Gerry Butts; and his chief of staff, Katie Telford, have been meeting with top brass in Trump’s incoming administration to try and smooth out possible irritations on the trade file.
But there is still some confusion about exactly how the Trudeau administration should handle Trump. Freeland herself has, privately, expressed consternation on how Ottawa can deal with a Republican government that seems so hell-bent on upending long-established trade mores.
As of Tuesday morning, Trudeau’s office was refusing to comment on any of the reports, and a time has yet to be set for the prime minister’s trip to the Governor General’s residence at Rideau Hall, where the new ministers need to be signed in. VICE News has not seen the list of the new ministers.
Maryam Monsef, who was tasked with handling consultations on reforming Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system — a source of many bad stories for the government — is supposedly being demoted to minister responsible for the status of women.
The least surprising move touted by media reports is the firing of MaryAnn Mihychuk, who is being replaced as labour minister, where senior government officials had been unhappy with her performance. She is expected to be dropped from cabinet outright.