OTTAWA: Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau shuffled much of his cabinet on Wednesday with the aim of increasing focus on economic issues like a housing shortage and the rising cost of living that have hurt his standing with voters.
It could be the last shakeup before an election, which is not due until the second half of 2025 but could come earlier.
Liberal leader Trudeau, who has been in power since 2015, brought seven new people into cabinet, but kept heavy hitters such as finance minister Chrystia Freeland, innovation minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and foreign minister Melanie Joly in their portfolios.
The prime minister changed or tweaked the job descriptions of about three-quarters of the positions compared with his previous cabinet, with former immigration minister Sean Fraser taking over a newly formed Housing, Infrastructure and Communities ministry.
“This is not tinkering. It is a major reset,” said Frank Graves, president of polling company Ekos. “The shuffle does send a clear message that the government is aware that their current standing with the electorate is not healthy.”
The official opposition Conservatives, who blame Trudeau for housing shortage and spiking inflation, have consistently been ahead in the polls for over year.
An Abacus Data survey out on Wednesday showed the party opening up an unusually big lead on the Liberals with 38% to 28% in public support, enough to ensure Trudeau’s defeat if an election were held now.
“Bringing in fresh energy with new members and new challenges was important for our economic team in particular,” Trudeau told reporters after the shuffle. “We’re facing significant economic challenges – housing, the cost of living inflation and interest rates.”
Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre pounced on the shuffle, calling it evidence of the prime minister’s failures.
“Justin Trudeau may have fired many of his cabinet ministers today, but he’s just as out of touch as ever, doubling down on his inflationary, high-spending and high-taxing ways,” he said in a statement.
The timing of the next election is unclear, since Trudeau commands only a parliamentary minority and relies on support from the leftist New Democrats to govern. That party has agreed to keep him in power until 2025, but the deal is not binding.
“We expect to be able to govern for a couple more years,” Trudeau told reporters, saying an early vote was not expected.
New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh, asked about Trudeau’s comments, said: “We are focused on getting results for people, not forcing an election.”
Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute polling company, said an election was most likely not imminent.
“No amount of shuffling can ‘refresh’ a government and PM who have been around for 8 years,” she said.
“With the Conservatives leading the Liberals by a handful of points in the latest polls, the best thing the Liberals can do is run the clock and hope cost of living is no longer a ballot issue by the time they do seek another mandate.”