OTTAWA – The prime minister has shuffled his cabinet in what was the first-ever virtual swearing-in ceremony.
The changes involve several moves and impact some key portfolios as the country tries to get through the pandemic and looks to economic recovery.
The shuffle is necessary because Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains has decided to step away from cabinet and not run in the next election, in order to focus more on his young daughters.
“As many of you know, family is the most important thing in my life. They have sacrificed so much over the last 17 years. This last year has been hard on families. My daughters, who are in Grade 5 and Grade 8, have needed me more in the last year and I’ve needed them, too. It’s time for me to put my family first, and I couldn’t be happier about it,” Bains said in a video posted to Twitter.
My statement on my decision not to run in the next election and leaving cabinet:
Ma déclaration sur ma décision de ne pas me présenter aux prochaines élections et de me retirer du Conseil des ministres : pic.twitter.com/c5OKDgXmfE
— Navdeep Bains (@NavdeepSBains) January 12, 2021
François-Philippe Champagne, who moves from foreign affairs to the innovation, science, and industry file, indicated that Justin Trudeau had asked his ministers to say whether they plan to run again in the next election — which could happen as early as this spring.
“The prime minister wanted to have a continuity and kind of a transition to make sure that the people who serve now in cabinet would be there for the long term,” Champagne said.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau takes over at foreign affairs and Toronto-area MP Omar Alghabra takes over Garneau’s old job at transport, which has seen 10 months of turbulence since the pandemic prompted a travel industry collapse and controversy over refunds for flight cancellations.
New Innovation Minister @FP_Champagne says Prime Minister made it clear last summer he wanted ministers in key portfolios to be there for the long haul through the pandemic and recovery. Bains said he made the decision to not run during family discussions over holidays #cdnpoli
— Cormac Mac Sweeney (@cmaconthehill) January 12, 2021
Jim Carr also returned to cabinet as minister without portfolio and special representative to the Prairies.
The moves solidify regional representation for the Liberals.
Cabinet retreat begins Tuesday
The ministers will have to catch up quickly on their new files, with a cabinet retreat beginning on Tuesday.
The cabinet retreat — four one-day sessions to take place over the next two weeks — is to focus on what more the government needs to do to manage the pandemic, which continues to rage across the country, including ways to accelerate the rollout of vaccines.
It is also supposed to focus on the eventual economic recovery and the Liberal government’s plans to invest billions in the fight against climate change, job creation, affordable housing, skills training and a national child-care program.
The retreat is taking place as the government prepares for the resumption of Parliament on Jan. 25, in what is bound to be a more aggressively partisan environment.
The pandemic forced a measure of cross-party co-operation last year, which allowed Trudeau’s minority Liberal government to operate without any serious threat to its survival.
But the spirit of collaboration was badly strained by the end of last year and is likely to evaporate altogether this year, particularly once the the government introduces a budget expected to send the already-historic federal deficit into the stratosphere.
The government will need the support of at least one of the main opposition parties to survive a confidence vote on the budget.