Chrystia Freeland, the rookie international trade minister who closed the Canada-EU free trade deal, moves to Foreign Affairs replacing Liberal veteran Stéphane Dion.
By BRUCE CAMPION-SMITH Ottawa Bureau.
TONDA MACCHARLESOttawa Bureau reporter.
Tues., Jan. 10, 2017. Courtesy: The Toronto Star.
OTTAWA—Three Toronto-area MPs earned big promotions as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled his cabinet Tuesday to gird for a new protectionist president in Washington and potential economic turbulence to follow.
Ahmed Hussen, who arrived as a 16-year-old refugee from Mogadishu, went to law school and just over a year ago became the first Somali-Canadian elected to the House of Commons, was named immigration minister.
Chrystia Freeland, the International Trade minister who closed the Canada-EU free trade deal, moves to Foreign Affairs replacing Liberal veteran Stéphane Dion, to steer Canada’s relationship with a newly unpredictable ally and trading partner under Donald Trump as U.S. president.
And Karina Gould, a rookie MP from Burlington, joins cabinet as Democratic Institutions minister, taking over from embattled Maryam Monsef.
Hussen’s varied experiences as an immigrant, community activist and immigration lawyer means he knows his new post “from the grassroots up, inside and out,” one senior official told the Star.
The Rideau Hall ceremony Tuesday afternoon put a fresh face on Trudeau’s government with veterans John McCallum and Dion leaving politics, rookie minister MaryAnn Mihychuk dumped and three newcomers joining the cabinet table.
Trudeau said the changes were made in order to “put our best team forward in dealing with the important issues that matter to Canadians, whether it be the relationship with the United States, whether it be the relationship with China, whether it be how we engage with Europe.”
It is Trudeau’s tapping of Freeland, 48, a journalist and author who lived in New York and Moscow, to replace Dion — and his decision to leave her to steer the Canada-U.S. trade relationship — that will set the tone for several big files in the New Year.
Trudeau suggested that Freeland, a fluent Russian speaker, is the best placed as the government navigates the unfolding U.S.-Russian dynamic. Freeland has in-depth knowledge of both countries and speaks Ukrainian, Russian, French and Italian.
Freeland has been blacklisted from visiting Russia, retaliation by President Vladimir Putin after Canada slapped sanctions on Moscow in 2014 to protest annexation of the Crimea in Ukraine. Freeland brushed aside queries about that, saying, “that’s a question for Moscow.”
For now, Ottawa’s focus is on Washington, where Trump’s administration will present “both opportunities and challenges,” Trudeau said.
“One of the things that we’ve seen from president-elect Trump is that he very much takes a trade and job lens to his engagements with the world in international diplomacy,” Trudeau said.
“It makes sense for the person who is responsible for foreign relations with the United States to also have the ability and the responsibility to engage with issues such as NAFTA and the broad range of trade issues that we’ll be facing,” Trudeau said, sketching out the rationale for Freeland’s move to foreign affairs.
Freeland told reporters Tuesday the government has laid the “groundwork for some personal relationships” with the new administration.
A senior government official said those meetings have helped inform Trump aides about the extent of the Canada’s economic ties to the U.S. — and America’s dependence on cross-border trade, but added “Trump’s people are very serious about changing things.”
“The world did change in November and it will have far-reaching implications, not just on our relations with the United States but our key economic and trade partners in Asia and Europe,” the official told the Star.
Helping out with that agenda will be François-Philippe Champagne, 46, who was promoted from parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance to International Trade. He replaces Freeland as the point person for other trade negotiations such as exploratory talks with China and the not-yet ratified Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump has threatened to ditch.
Tuesday’s shakeup rewarded some MPs who made an impression in the year since the Liberals took over government and shuffled aside poor performers.
Patty Hajdu, 50, the minister for the status of women was promoted to become minister of employment, workforce development and labour.
She replaces Mihychuk, a former Manitoba NDP cabinet minister whose brusque and complaining manner rubbed many the wrong way. Mihychuk is dropped from cabinet altogether.
Gould, 29, is a relative unknown even more than a year after the election. She moves from parliamentary secretary for International Development and the Francophonie to take on the Democratic Institutions portfolio — stickhandling changes to how Canadians will vote in the next election, and how the government will move its bills through a reformed Senate and its newly independent ranks under Trudeau appointments.
With democratic reform bogged down, Gould will bring a new focus to the portfolio, perhaps one that put less emphasis on changing the way Canadians vote, the official suggested.
The change is also an effort to help rehabilitate Monsef, the 31-year-old minister who muddled the electoral reform file and now takes over the Status of Women file.
“It’s a good chance for a fresh start for someone who has a really, really bright future,” the source said.
Trudeau thanked the two departing veterans for their years of political service, even though Dion was said to be unhappy about the shift, despite the offer of a plum diplomatic posting as ambassador to both the European Union and Germany, according to the CBC.
Asked whether he had fired Dion, Trudeau only spoke glowingly of the party stalwart and said he had offered him a “very senior important position.”
“He is rightly taking a moment to consider what his future service will look like,” Trudeau said.
Dion released a statement Tuesday evening thanking Trudeau and wishing Freeland the best of luck.
“Over the last twenty-one years, I have devoted myself to my riding, to my fellow citizens, to Québec, to all of Canada, to the role that we must play in the world, and to the Liberal Party of Canada. Now, I shall deploy my efforts outside active politics,” he said.
McCallum, a former bank economist who held the immigration minister portfolio, leaves his 16-year political career as the MP for Markham-Thornhill to become Canada’s ambassador in Beijing, a politically important shift at a time when Trudeau is launching exploratory talks towards free trade with China.