A Big Little Shuffle in Ottawa

5 minute read

Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains stepped down from Cabinet in a Tuesday morning shuffle. Here are the highlights:

  1. Navdeep Bains has left Cabinet and will not seek re-election. 
    • First elected in 2004, Bains has served as Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry since 2015.
    • Bains announced that he will continue to serve as the MP for Mississauga-Malton but will not seek re-election. He said that he is stepping away from his role to spend more time with his family. 
    • Bains is known as a formidable political organizer and fundraiser and has a long, close personal relationship with the Prime Minister. 
  2. François-Philippe Champagne appointed Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.
    • Champagne represents the riding of Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC. He has previously served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of International Trade, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance. 
    • Champagne will assume responsibility for Bill C-11, the Digital Charter Implementation Act. Introduced by Minister Bains in November 2020; the bill is now at second reading. 
    • The Innovative Superclusters Initiative will also be on Champagne’s agenda. This initiative has faced recent criticism due to slow project implementation and a failure to create the expected number of jobs. 
    • Champagne will also be responsible for delivering on a green industrial strategy, as part of the government’s strengthened plan for a Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy
    • In a statement, the Prime Minister said that Champagne will help manufacturing, natural resource, and energy sectors transition to net-zero emissions, while also working with cabinet colleagues to improve high-speed internet access in rural communities.
  3. Marc Garneau becomes Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. 
    • Garneau is the MP for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount, QC and has served as the Minister of Transport since 2015. The former Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic will be Canada’s fourth Minister of Foreign Affairs in the past five years. 
    • The new Minister of Foreign Affairs will be responsible for establishing a constructive working relationship with the incoming Biden administration. Garneau brings experience to this task, having served as chair of the Cabinet Committee on Canada-United States Relations. 
    • Another key issue for Garneau will be Canada’s strained relationship with China, in particular the continued arbitrary detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. 
  4. Omar Alghabra was promoted to Cabinet as Minister of Transport. 
    • Alghabra is the MP for Mississauga Centre and has recently served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Public Service Renewal) and to the Deputy Prime Minister. 
    • Alghabra will be responsible for the government’s long-awaited plan to support the struggling airline industry. The department is currently working on an assistance package for airlines, which is expected to be announced soon. They are also working with provinces regarding rapid testing pilot projects in Canadian airports.  
    • The new Minister will also work with Minister Bill Blair and the COVID-19 Cabinet Committee to oversee border protection and COVID-19 testing requirements prior to entry into Canada. 
    • In a statement, the Prime Minister stated that Alghabra will oversee continued investments in transportation and public transit and will play a leadership role in the investigation into the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 tragedy.
  5. Jim Carr is making a return to Cabinet as special representative for the Prairies. 
    • Carr represents the riding of Winnipeg South and has served as special representative for the Prairies since the 2019 election. 
    • Carr previously served as Minister of Natural Resources and Minister of International Trade Diversification, before stepping down from cabinet due to health issues.  
    • In a statement, Prime Minister Trudeau said that Minister Carr will continue to actively engage Canadians across the Prairies and will bring their perspectives to Cabinet discussions.

We understand that the long-awaited new mandate letters for ministers have been updated to reflect new roles and new priorities and will be published imminently. The mandate letters have not yet to be posted as of the distribution of this update.

Analysis: Gearing up for a Spring Election? 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet Ian Shugart, and Governor General Julie Payette convened a small group of Liberals MPs Tuesday morning for a (virtual) cabinet shuffle that may have been small in numbers but weighty in significance for a government looking more and more like it is gearing up for a spring election. 

The main headline was that Minister Navdeep Bains is leaving Cabinet, having decided that he would not seek re-election. The news is important not only because Bains had long held the key Industry portfolio in Cabinet – leading the charge on major changes to the government’s innovation agenda –  but also because the former minister has been a political organizing and fundraising powerhouse for the Liberal Party for almost two decades.  

Bains’ departure from Cabinet reinforces the escalating speculation that we could see a federal election this spring. There’s been plenty of discussion surrounding the outlook for the next election, and whether the pandemic would be the catalyst for an early election call by the Liberal government. The Hill Times reported on Monday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had told the Liberal national board of directors “it looks like” a spring election. Whenever the writs drop, the next election will look different for the Liberals without Bains in the forefront, as the party has leaned on him heavily for organizing and fundraising in recent campaigns. Bains has been a central player for the governing party in Ontario and especially around his home turf of Mississauga where he was first elected to the House of Commons in 2004 (originally in the riding of Mississauga—Brampton South). Not surprisingly, he’s developed a network there that’s been helpful for the Liberals in the past, and those will be big boots to fill. 

Tuesday’s shuffle will shake things up at the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, where Bains has been in charge since 2015. This shuffle comes at a time when some of the department’s big goals, such as the Strategic Innovation Fund and the Innovation Superclusters, have failed to live up to intended outcomes. Bains has drawn consistent criticism for his department’s handling of some of those key projects, and the business community has been vocal about perceived shortfalls. While a great deal of progress has been made at ISED on programs like the Innovation Skills plan and the Superclusters initiative, Canada continued to underwhelm on key indicators of innovation, including business investment on research and development and firm growth, even once those programs were firmly in place. 

François-Philippe Champagne appointment is seen as an opportunity to inject renewed energy and focus into the leadership of the department. Minister Champagne is known to be a highly capable and ambitious leader with extensive private sector experience and a Rolodex to match it. How he might steer those big-ticket programs so they can deliver promised returns will be a key area to watch. And, the question remains – how much time will he have to deliver? 

Today’s news came ahead of a virtual Cabinet retreat scheduled to begin Tuesday afternoon and carry on throughout the week. It looks like there will be plenty to discuss with the loss of a key Cabinet member, a major swap at foreign affairs, and the appointment of a new rookie Minister.

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