Trudeau turns to political veteran McLellan on tips to form government

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is turning to two political veterans to provide advice on forming a minority government in the face of renewed talk of separatism in Quebec and the West.

Anne McLellan, a one-time deputy prime minister and lone federal Liberal voice from Alberta, is among those providing tips to Trudeau as he ponders how best to navigate through a second mandate with no representation from Alberta or Saskatchewan, where feelings of alienation are running high.

Isabelle Hudon, Canada’s ambassador to France and a former well-known Quebec business leader, is also on the transition team, which must also cope with a resurgence of the separatist Bloc Quebecois in Trudeau’s home province.

The transition team is being headed by Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, and the top federal public servant, Privy Council Clerk Ian Shugart.

Trudeau has leaned on McLellan twice before for advice, first on legalizing cannabis and then on the dual role of the attorney general and justice minister in the wake of the SNC-Lavalin affair. Trudeau is turning to her again after his party didn’t win a seat in Alberta and Saskatchewan in last week’s election, raising questions about how those provinces will be represented in government and around the cabinet table.

McLellan has some experience with minority governments, having served in cabinet during Paul Martin’s 2004-06 minority regime.

Hudon has provided economic advice to the former Conservative government and most recently chaired a G7 council on gender equity for the 2017 leaders’ summit hosted by Canada. She is considered someone who has her finger on the pulse of the mood in Quebec.

Trudeau’s Liberals went into the election campaign with 177 seats but came out with just 157 — 13 short of a majority — and will now need opposition support to pass legislation in Parliament.

Trudeau has ruled out a formal agreement with any of the opposition parties to ensure his government’s survival. He intends to try to earn support from one or more opposition parties on a case-by-case basis.

He met Tuesday morning with Gov. Gen. Julie Payette at Rideau Hall to formally confirm that he intends to form government.

In the week since the election, Trudeau has spoken with every premier in the country and has reached out to a number of mayors, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, for their input.

He spoke Tuesday with Regina Mayor Michael Fougere and Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark. He talked last week with Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi, Edmonton’s Don Iveson and Toronto’s John Tory.

Trudeau has also spoken with defeated Liberal MPs and with former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien.

The first test of Trudeau’s minority government will be a confidence vote on the speech from the throne laying out his plans for a new session of Parliament. However, it remains unclear when Parliament will be recalled. Some Liberal insiders suggest there is no rush to resume business before Christmas and that Trudeau should take the time necessary to map out how to proceed in a more volatile Parliament where his government’s survival will no longer be assured.

In 2015, Trudeau waited just over a month to call MPs back to Parliament, although a new cabinet was sworn in far earlier than that.

This time, Trudeau is taking longer to put together his cabinet, which he is to unveil on Nov. 20. Among other tough decisions, he must decide how to fill the gaps left by high-profile ministers Ralph Goodale and Amarjeet Sohi, who lost their seats, and what to do about Jim Carr and Dominic LeBlanc, two senior ministers who are battling cancer.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2019.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

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