Trudeau to move fewest possible ministers to fill void left by Brison departure

OTTAWA — Monday’s cabinet shuffle is expected to be very small, involving the fewest possible number of changes needed to fill the void left by veteran Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison’s resignation from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s front bench.

It will not, however, simply be a matter of plugging one hole. Brison’s departure creates two gaps in the cabinet lineup — Nova Scotia’s seat and president of the Treasury Board — and filling both will create a domino effect that’s expected to involve at least two other ministers.

The first, and probably easiest, hole to fill is that of Nova Scotia’s representative at the cabinet table. Having won all 11 seats in the province in 2015, Trudeau has nine backbenchers from which to choose (excluding Geoff Regan who presides as Speaker of the House of Commons). The heavy betting among Liberal insiders is on Bernadette Jordan or Sean Fraser.

Whomever becomes the new Nova Scotia rep, insiders say he or she will not take Brison’s place as president of the Treasury Board.

Despite its low profile, the portfolio is considered vitally important to the operations of the government and, thus, no place for a rookie. It is the guardian of the public purse, overseeing how the government is managed, how it spends money and how it goes about regulating many aspects of Canadians’ lives. The president of the Treasury Board is also responsible for negotiating 27 collective agreements with 15 different bargaining agents.

Because of that, Brison’s old job is expected to go to a “very senior” minister, in the words of one insider. That, in turn, will open up another senior ministry which will require an experienced hand to take over, creating yet another opening — and possibly more depending on how many dominoes Trudeau is prepared to let fall.

Trudeau is unlikely to move senior ministers who are in the midst of fulfilling their mandates, such as Finance Minister Bill Morneau or Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. More likely, according to insiders, it will be someone who has mostly completed the ministerial agenda set out for them by the prime minister.

One scenario that may fit all those requirements would be to move Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale into Treasury Board. Goodale is Trudeau’s most experienced minister, having served under Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, including a stint as finance minister. He has no major outstanding issues to wrap up at Public Safety.

In the interests of minimizing the domino effect, Bill Blair — the former Toronto police chief who was given the newly created cabinet post of border security and organized crime just last summer — could move up to Public Safety and the Nova Scotia newcomer could take over Blair’s current job.

Other names circulating in the Liberal rumour mill as possible candidates for the Treasury Board slot include Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough.

All this is, of course, speculative. Trudeau himself — who, as it happens, was at an event Friday with Goodale in Regina — refused to drop any hints as to the size or make-up of the shuffle, other than to reconfirm that it will occur on Monday.

A clue as to who will not be involved in the shuffle might be found in the ministerial events slated to take place Monday. As of Friday, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, Transport Minister Marc Garneau, Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, Infrastructure Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan, Tourism Minister Melanie Joly and Science and Sport Minister Kirsty Duncan were all scheduled to be at events outside the nation’s capital.

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