Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled his cabinet Monday morning in a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. The move shakes up the front benches of the government and keeps a focus on making female and younger male MPs front and centre as politicians head into a crucial election year.
But it also reflects concerns about whether the government is doing enough to attract and retain rural voters as well as those in Atlantic Canada, which the Liberals swept in 2015 and will be under pressure to keep in the fall election.
“This entire shift happened because we are losing a very valued player,” Trudeau said.
“But this really is an illustration of the depth of bench-strength that Canadians sent to this government in 2015.”
WATCH BELOW: Jody Wilson-Raybould takes over Veterans Affairs in cabinet shuffle
Philpott has been vice chair of the cabinet Treasury Board committee, a secret group that acts essentially as the government’s management board. That means she comes into the new position having already worked on government spending oversight and financial management, some of the key roles of the president of the Treasury Board.
She had previously served as Indigenous Services minister since August 2017 and was health minister from November 2015 until then.
Philpott also becomes Minister for Digital Governance as was Brison before her.
WATCH BELOW: Treasury Board President Scott Brison announces resignation
The decision to move O’Regan out of the veterans portfolio comes after he was criticized for his handling of several matters there.
In December 2018, he came under fire for comparing the difficulties he said he faced while transitioning from his career in journalism to one in politics to the challenges faced by veterans leaving the military.
He was also blasted in September 2018 for comparing leaving $372 million allocated for the department unspent to getting a credit for prepaid gas.
O’Regan also took the brunt of the criticism levelled at the government for the decision by Veterans Affairs Canada to cover the cost of mental health treatments being received by convicted murderer Christopher Garnier, who never served in the military but is the son of a veteran who did.
WATCH BELOW: Trudeau defends decision to move Seamus O’Regan as Minister of Indigenous Services
Wilson-Raybould, on the other hand, has overseen the legal handling of several major files since she was first named Minister of Justice in November 2015.
Those include assisted dying, legalizing marijuana, and leading a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
She is a high-profile cabinet member who has generally avoided coming under the kind of criticism that has plagued some other members and her move raised questions on Monday about whether the change was a demotion.
“The work done by Jody on major issues was exceptional and we really need someone now who’s very strong and can deliver for our veterans,” said Trudeau when asked whether that was the case.
“I would caution anyone who thinks that serving our veterans and making sure they get the care to which they are so justly entitled from any Canadian government is anything other than a deep and awesome responsibility.”
Wilson-Raybould also issued a terse statement shortly after the shuffle.
“I have received many questions and inquiries about the Cabinet shuffle announced today and why I am no longer the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. Thank you for all the kind words. While I can understand the interest of Canadians in this matter, I will not be commenting,” she said before going on to urge the importance of there not being what she called “political interference” in the role.
“It is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence,” she said.
“At a time when the functioning of democracies around the globe is increasingly under strain, and democratic norms are in peril, the unique and independent aspects of the dual role of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada are even more important. I know Canadians across the country expect such high standards to continue to be met – especially in the uncertain times in which we now live – and I expect this to continue.”
Wilson-Raybould also would have been the minister responsible for making a final decision on how to proceed with the possible extradition of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou if the courts authorized that to go ahead.
The responsibility for making the final call on that case will now fall to Montreal-area David Lametti, former parliamentary secretary for innovation.
Lametti will also be joined by Nova Scotia MP Bernadette Jordan as one of two fresh faces around the cabinet table.
Jordan, previously parliamentary secretary to Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, represents the rural riding of South Shore-St. Margaret’s.
Jordan becomes Minister of Rural Economic Development, a new portfolio being set up in a cabinet made up heavily of MPs representing more urban areas.
“It will play a major role in the lives of rural Canadians and their families,” said Trudeau on Monday about what the new role will do.
“Small towns are not facing the same challenges as large cities. We have to take a different approach. That is why we have created this portfolio.”
Jordan’s appointment keeps the gender balance in cabinet at 18 women and 18 men, including the prime minister.