Cabinet Jenga on The Rideau

Refashioning a Cabinet mid-way through a Government’s mandate is not unlike a game of Jenga. Something’s gotta give to get things moving: a retirement, a demise (physical or political) or expanding the size of the Cabinet to add new Cabinet-level leadership around a pressing issue. Inevitably, Ministers are ditched (deservedly or not) so that someone other than the Prime Minister takes the fall for some political embarrassment the Government wishes to put behind it (read: Chinese interference; prisoner transfers).

This Government is mid- way through its term. Should the NDP continue to support the Liberals, they will be able to govern for two more years. With past campaign promises fulfilled (so they say) and emergencies addressed (so they say), the Government’s challenge now is to decide what to get done in the final two years of its mandate and what to hold back to announce in the upcoming Campaign.  A government only has a few ways to signal its priorities or preoccupations: a Throne Speech at the start of a new Parliamentary Session, a Budget Speech or fiscal update, a Campaign program. Another way is by presenting a new Cabinet. A “new look” Cabinet is thought to be just the thing to telegraph a new beginning, if not a valiant denouement. Subtle and not so subtle messages can be conveyed about gender, diversity, youth, priorities.

To create vacancies, a considerate Prime Minister asks Cabinet Ministers to indicate if they intend to run again. If some do not, the PM gives them time to exit on the eve of announcing the new Cabinet, so no one looks to be passed over. If that invitation does not create enough vacancies to move the pieces around or open up the board for fresh faces, a gentle reminder: “It is better to leave now on your own terms than be passed over” does the trick. Several “retirements” (voluntary or otherwise) leading up to this latest shuffle made way for yesterday’s announcement.

Cabinet-making can be brutal as a Prime Minister balances skills, regional representation, gender and whether to promote or cut the legs out from under any unwelcome rivals.

Not having yet faced any organized revolt from would-be leadership rivals at the Cabinet table, there was no one to scold. To the relief of Liberals focused on the future leadership of the Party, the Prime Minister gets credit for sustaining or promoting possible future Leaders with some hopefuls confirmed in important existing portfolios (Freeland, Champagne, Joly, LeBlanc) and one (Anand) moved to Treasury Board to add to her experience at the highest levels of government responsibility.

As we watched the new (and current) Ministers arrive at Rideau Hall to be sworn in, there was no red carpet, but many insist on wearing “Liberal red”.  We look at the procession to identify new or rising stars, and we read the tea leaves to suss out priorities (e.g. housing and the economy – not broadly perhaps but how it impacts ordinary folks). The economic team is strong, and as we all know: “it’s the economy stupid”.

Regardless of who is leading what portfolio, the key piece of intelligence about the Government’s actual priorities will be gleaned from each Minister’s “Mandate Letter”.  There are conflicting priorities to be sorted out, e.g.  promoting immigration but addressing already existing housing challenges; cooling inflation, but not saddling consumers with constantly rising prices. Taken as a whole, the Ministers’ Mandate Letters – in theory at least – should shed some light on how the Government plans to balance these competing priorities and provide some insight into what this Prime Minister thinks will win the Liberals yet another election in two years’ time.  Watch for the Mandate Letters. We are also watching for a fiscal update in the Fall.

Another overarching challenge remains global strategic realities and pressure from Canada’s allies to up defense spending. The trade- off is between spending at home and abroad – the proverbial “guns or butter” dilemma. We have usually chosen butter. We are now trying to find a way to choose both. Good luck with that. It can only break the bank.

The Cabinet is large, as such it cannot be a deliberative body. The Prime Minister, and his Office, remain fully in charge.

The goal of Jenga is to move the pieces without collapsing the tower. We shall see.

If you would like more information please contact:

Barry Campbell:

Gayle Nathanson:

The New Cabinet


  • 38 Ministers (no change – but still historically large)
  • 19 women; 19 men
  • Regional Representation: The Atlantic: 6; Quebec: 10; Ontario: 16; The West: 6
  • 7 new members of Cabinet (7 gone)
  • Only 8 Ministers stayed in their current portfolios

Steady as she goes (Current Ministers staying in their portfolio or moving into a new portfolio)

Remaining in current portfolio

  • Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance
  • François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry
  • Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
  • Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services
  • Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth
  • Mélanie Joly, Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Filomena Tassi, Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario
  • Dan Vandal, Minister of Northern Affairs

New portfolio

  • Anita Anand, President of the Treasury Board (from Defence)
  • Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of National Revenue (from Agriculture)
  • Bill Blair, Minister of National Defence (from Emergency Preparedness)
  • Randy Boissonnault, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Official Languages (from Tourism)
  • Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Public Services and Procurement (from Health)
  • Sean Fraser, Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities (from Immigration)
  • Karina Gould, Leader of the Government in the House of Commons (from Families, Children and Social Development)
  • Mark Holland, Minister of Health (from House Leader)
  • Ahmed Hussen, Minister of International Development (from Housing and Diversity and Inclusion)
  • Gudie Hutchings, Minister of Rural Economic Development and Minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (from Rural Economic Development)
  • Kamal Khera, Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities (from Seniors) (This is a new portfolio – taking bits from two previous portfolios.)
  • Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Public Safety, Democratic Institutions and Intergovernmental Affairs (from Intergovernmental Affairs – now has added Public Safety)
  • Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard (from National Revenue)
  • Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (from Veterans Affairs)
  • Marc Miller, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (from Crown-Indigenous Relations)
  • Mary Ng, Minister of Export Promotion, International Trade and Economic Development (from International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development – Small Business now has its own Minister)
  • Seamus O’Regan Jr., Minister of Labour and Seniors (from Labour – now has added Seniors)
  • Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence (from Official Languages)
  • Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Physical Activity (from Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion)
  • Pablo Rodriguez , Minister of Transport and will continue to serve as Quebec Lieutenant (from Heritage)
  • Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of Emergency Preparedness (from International Development)
  • Pascale St-Onge, Minister of Canadian Heritage (from Sport)
  • Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources (from Natural Resources – now has added Energy)

Make me proud (Rookie Ministers)

  • Gary Anandasangaree, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations
  • Terry Beech, Minister of Citizens’ Services (This is a new portfolio.)
  • Soraya Martinez Ferrada, Minister of Tourism and Minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec
  • Ya’ara Saks, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health
  • Jenna Sudds, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development
  • Rechie Valdez,  Minister of Small Business
  • Arif Virani, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

And…Thank you for your service (Ministers no longer in Cabinet)

  • Carolyn Bennett, formerly Mental Health and Addictions (not seeking re-election)
  • Omar Alghabra , formerly Transport (not seeking re-election)
  • Joyce Murray, formerly Fisheries (not seeking re-election)
  • Helena Jaczek, formerly Public Services and Procurement (not seeking re-election)
  • Marco Mendicino, formerly Public Safety (has said he will remain as an MP and run in the next election)
  • Mona Fortier, formerly Treasury Board (has said she will remain as an MP and run in the next election)
  • David Lametti, formerly Justice (has not said anything about next steps)

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