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Chrystia Freeland replaces Bill Morneau to become first female finance minister

Click to play video 'Deputy PM Chrystia Freeland sworn in as finance minister' Deputy PM Chrystia Freeland sworn in as finance minister
WATCH: Deputy PM Chrystia Freeland sworn in as finance minister

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has taken on a major new role: finance minister.

In a physically distant ceremony at Rideau Hall on Tuesday, Freeland removed her face mask briefly to take the oath of office and become the country’s new minister of finance before replacing the mask to bump elbows with both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov. General Julie Payette, also masked.

Veteran Liberal Dominic LeBlanc was also sworn in to take over the intergovernmental affairs portfolio.

The mini-cabinet shuffle follows the resignation Monday night of Bill Morneau after reports of a rift between him and Trudeau over the best course forward on the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Click to play video '‘It’s about time’: Freeland speaks on being Canada’s first female finance minister' ‘It’s about time’: Freeland speaks on being Canada’s first female finance minister
‘It’s about time’: Freeland speaks on being Canada’s first female finance minister

Freeland was asked on Tuesday to share whether she has had disagreements with the prime minister and how they handled those, and to reflect on what it means to be the first woman in the role.

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“It’s actually something we talked about yesterday and we reflected, I think with good humour, on a few of the issues we have disagreed on. I’m actually not going to catalog those,” she said.

“My motto has been to have open, candid conversations with the prime minister in private but also to have a united front when we come out in public … that’s a really, really important part of any working relationship.”

Click to play video 'Chrystia Freeland replaces Bill Morneau to become first female finance minister' Chrystia Freeland replaces Bill Morneau to become first female finance minister
Chrystia Freeland replaces Bill Morneau to become first female finance minister

On being the first female finance minister, Freeland said: “It’s about time that we broke that glass ceiling.”

“This particular economic challenge our country is facing, the economic challenge created by the coronavirus is hitting women particularly hard. It’s hitting mothers particularly hard,” she continued.

READ MORE: Morneau leaves Ottawa with mixed record as politician, finance minister

“Certainly I’m glad that I’ll have an opportunity as a woman, as a mother, to address this really important challenge our country is facing.”

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Morneau had been under fire over his role in the WE Charity scandal, particularly his failure to recuse himself from cabinet discussions on the group given his family financial ties.

Click to play video 'Freeland says restart of economy needs to be green, equitable' Freeland says restart of economy needs to be green, equitable
Freeland says restart of economy needs to be green, equitable

 

Both Morneau and Trudeau are now under investigation by the ethics commissioner over accusations of conflict of interest in that controversy, which emerged after the government granted to WE Charity the administration of what was originally billed as a $912-million student service grant program.

The office of the ethics commissioner said on Tuesday that its investigation will continue despite Morneau’s resignation.

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Several House of Commons committees are also conducting studies into the allegations of conflict of interest but proroguing Parliament would short circuit that work.

READ MORE: WE Charity now registered to lobby, executive tells Commons committee

Prorogation is the process of terminating a parliamentary session, meaning all business on the agenda dies. That includes bills, motions and committee work as well.

Trudeau previously criticized former prime minister Stephen Harper for using prorogation as a means to avoid political accountability, and the 2015 Liberal platform vowed not to do the same.

Click to play video 'Trudeau says they’ve released WE Charity documents for review, don’t want election' Trudeau says they’ve released WE Charity documents for review, don’t want election
Trudeau says they’ve released WE Charity documents for review, don’t want election

“We will not resort to legislative tricks to avoid scrutiny,” that platform vowed. “Stephen Harper has used prorogation to avoid difficult political circumstances. We will not.”

Following a prorogation, Trudeau would face a confidence vote with a new Speech from the Throne.

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READ MORE: Trudeau, Morneau clashing over green initiatives and coronavirus spending, sources say

Trudeau is expected to face questions about those rumours and about his decision to move around his cabinet when he speaks with reporters later in the afternoon.

Freeland has risen over the last five years from minister of international trade to minister of foreign affairs, minister of intergovernmental affairs and deputy prime minister, making her one of the most powerful and trusted members of Trudeau’s team.

Click to play video 'Dominic LeBlanc sworn-in as minister of intergovernmental affairs' Dominic LeBlanc sworn-in as minister of intergovernmental affairs
Dominic LeBlanc sworn-in as minister of intergovernmental affairs

This new role places her yet again at the very centre of a high-profile, high-pressure national conversation around the best way to move forward as the country continues to grapple with the social and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and a deficit currently pegged at $343 billion.

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LeBlanc had previously held the post as intergovernmental affairs minister before stepping back in early 2019 to seek treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Click to play video 'Trudeau says government needs new team focused on rebuilding Canada’s economy' Trudeau says government needs new team focused on rebuilding Canada’s economy
Trudeau says government needs new team focused on rebuilding Canada’s economy

 

He received stem cell treatment last fall and was sworn in as president of the Queen’s Privy Council at Rideau Hall in December 2019, a role that put him in charge of overseeing the Privy Council Office.

That’s the branch of bureaucracy tasked with supporting the operations of the Prime Minister’s Office.