Trudeau Cabinet Shuffle’s Impact on Alberta

Starved by the slow summer news cycles in Ottawa, political observers and media got their fill of news on July 26th when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made significant changes to his cabinet.  Few topics have been more speculated on since Canada’s parliament went on summer break than what a cabinet shuffle would look like. The number of ministers involved was significant, with 23 getting new roles but several notable ones not moving. Regardless, the new federal cabinet has important implications for Alberta’s government. 

Premier Smith Quick to Respond

In an interview with CBC’s Catherine Cullen on The House, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith pointed out her disappointment with Minister Guilbeault continuing in the environment portfolio. That was expected, as was a Trudeau cabinet not getting any endorsement from an Alberta premier. But while Premier Smith’s comments were critical of Minister Guilbeault, there were also notes of cautious optimism matching her post-election messaging about being able to move forward with the federal government and pursue good working relationships with ministers not named Guilbeault.  

“The fact that we have five cabinet ministers (Editor’s note: Freeland, Wilkinson, Boissonnault, Leblanc, Guilbeault) that we’re dealing with — four of them are reasonable, one of them is not. I’m hoping that the four reasonable ones are able to carry the day because we can have a deal with the federal government that is good for industry, good for the environment, good for consumers, good for the planet, good for our trade partners. And it’s a matter of making sure Guilbeault is not the one who carries the day because he’s the one, unfortunately, who is sending mixed messages and it’s not helpful.” 
–  Premier Danielle Smith on CBC’s The House

Energy and Environment

In such a significant shuffle that signalled changing priorities on several policy and political fronts, it’s notable that the Prime Minister has kept Minister Wilkinson at Energy and Natural Resources, Minister Guilbeault at Environment and Climate Change, Minister Champagne at Innovation, Science and Industry, and Deputy Prime Minister Freeland at Finance. This is a clear signal that the Prime Minister believes his government is on the right track in these areas, that his government’s stakeholders and political constituencies are well-served, and that he trusts the ministers’ leadership in these critical areas.  

Those parsing the changes noticed that “Energy” has been added to Minister Wilkinson’s title as Minister of Energy and Natural Resources – but don’t read much into that change. It’s only a slight wording change that is more reflective of the work the Minister and his department are already doing. New mandate letters, which aren’t expected immediately, will confirm if this is a wording update or something more substantial. Those of us who have observed more than a few cabinet shuffles may recall that from 1966 to 1995, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources led this key portfolio for the federal government. I should know, as I was executive assistant to former Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources Pat Carney, who dismantled the National Energy Program as part of the Mulroney government.Infrastructure and Housing

On the other hand, sometimes, a department name change can be significant. One such case is the new Housing, Infrastructure and Communities cabinet position. The title change accompanies the Prime Minister’s merging of the housing file (and its supporting public servants and budgets) with infrastructure. It is intended to give the housing file more weight in government while seeking to break down silos and encourage more collaboration amongst department staff in the two areas.  

The Prime Minister’s appointment of Sean Fraser as minister further shows that he recognizes this area as crucial to his electoral chances. Minister Fraser has earned a reputation as a competent performer and an effective communicator. The challenges are significant, and Minister Fraser will need all his skills to succeed. Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek, Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, and Alberta’s Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services Jason Nixon publicly released a joint letter congratulating Minister Fraser on his appointment and wasted no time flagging Alberta’s concerns with the federal government’s approach to the housing crisis.  

Minister Fraser can expect to hear from the provincial, territorial and municipal governments of Western Canada early and often in his new role. When the premiers of Canada’s Western provinces and territories met in June, their communique and media availability were filled with requests for more federal housing and critical infrastructure funding for climate action, sustainable development, economic corridors, and energy security. Minister Fraser will be challenged to balance infrastructure and housing dollars in Western Canada with spending in the vote-rich provinces of Ontario and Quebec.  Some Surprises

Many of the issues front and centre in Western Canada, such as bail reform, Indigenous Reconciliation, and fisheries, will now be steered by ministers new to their roles and, in some cases, new to cabinet.  

Arif Virani has joined cabinet for the first time as Minister of Justice and Attorney General, replacing David Lametti, who is no longer a member of cabinet; the transfer of Minister Marc Miller to Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship led to Gary Anandasangaree joining as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations; and the departure of B.C.’s Joyce Murray whom Quebec MP Diane Lebouthillier is replacing as Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. Western Canada continues to have little representation in cabinet

Western Canadian provinces and territories account for 35.54% of Canada’s population but only 15% of the seats at the cabinet table. The Yukon, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories have no cabinet ministers. The prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta have two cabinet ministers, and British Columbia has four.  

Alberta’s lone cabinet minister remains Liberal MP for Edmonton Centre, Randy Boissonnault. Minister Boissonnault takes on a more senior portfolio of Employment, Workforce Development and Official Languages. There was speculation that Calgary Skyview Liberal MP George Chahal might be added to cabinet to add more representation to Western Canada, but he was once again passed over. The most likely reason MP Chahal is being passed over and that Western Canada is not getting more cabinet representation is a purely political calculation that there are more votes to be gained by having ministers that are MPs in vote-rich Ontario and Quebec rather than in Alberta and the prairie provinces.  

Alberta and other Western governments will continue to work with the well-respected Dominic LeBlanc, whom the Prime Minister will continue to lean on for intergovernmental relationships along with his expanded responsibilities as Minister of Public Safety, Democratic Institutions and Intergovernmental Affairs. Minister LeBlanc’s continuing role in leading intergovernmental files will be welcomed in Alberta and amongst the Western provinces with little representation in cabinet.What’s Next?

The Prime Minister has yet to name new parliamentary secretaries or issue mandate letters to his new cabinet; both moves are expected before parliament resumes sitting in late September.  

With all the changes in Ottawa, it is easy to forget that Edmonton has also seen dramatic changes. Through ministerial mandate letters, Premier Smith has set forward over 300 priorities for the recently re-elected UCP and dramatically reshaped the machinery of the Alberta government. The range and scope of priorities in terms of complexity and sheer numbers in the two capitals will challenge and provide opportunities for those dealing with both governments. 

The cabinet shuffle tossed some red meat for summer political news observers, but we can expect the summer political news cycles to be lean as even premiers and prime ministers take some vacation time. Still, we won’t have to wait long for political news to heat up again with elections in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories this October and BC before the end of 2024.  

Pierre Alvarez is a Vice Chair with Global Public Affairs. Pierre is a seasoned energy executive with over thirty-five years of senior management experience in the Canadian oil, natural gas, pipeline and electricity sectors. Prior to joining Global, he was an Executive Leadership Team member at Kinder Morgan Canada, Nexen Inc., and President of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). AMPPE works closely with Pierre and the GPA team.