Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made changes to his cabinet on January 12, 2021 and denied suggestions it meant a federal election might soon be called. His government is in a minority position now and pundits had suggested he may want to take advantage of the public’s generally positive opinion of his handling of the pandemic so far.
The federal government is responsible for acquiring vaccines and it has successfully made arrangements to procure much more than what it would take to inoculate the entire population. The less positive results in getting vaccines into the arms of Canadians falls under provincial and territorial jurisdiction.
In Canada, federal elections must take place on the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year after the previous poll. The most recent election was on October 21, 2019. But since the Liberals did not obtain a majority of elected representatives, it must have the support of other parties to continue governing. In addition, the prime minister may call an election when he chooses. None but one minority government in Canada has lasted the full four years. Most have lasted less than two years.
Cabinet shuffle triggered by outgoing minister
The cabinet shuffle was ostensibly done because Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains is leaving the cabinet for personal reasons. He will be replaced by Francois-Philippe Champagne who held the Global Affairs portfolio. Responsibility for Global Affairs will go to Marc Garneau who leaves Transport Canada where he has had thorny negotiations with the airline industry which is seeking subsidies for losses incurred because of the pandemic. Garneau has refused to provide any until the airlines reimburse Canadian passengers for flights that were cancelled. Garneau is a former astronaut who lived in the United States for nine years. He is expected to forge a good relationship with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and to work with him to try to get China to release two Canadians it has imprisoned for more than two years.
New cabinet ministers would be assets in an election
Trudeau’s parliamentary secretary Omar Alghabra takes over the Transport portfolio. He is a member of Parliament for the Toronto area and would be an important asset in an election. The suburbs around Toronto are a critical region in any federal election. They are hotly contested by the two main parties, the Liberal and the Conservatives.
The prime minister has also named Jim Carr to cabinet as a minister without portfolio but as a special representative to the western Prairie Provinces. In the last election, his Liberal Party was shut out of the Prairies and Trudeau is keenly aware of his need to gather support there.
The swearing-in of new cabinet members was held virtually for the first time because of the pandemic. Afterwards, reporters asked whether the cabinet shuffle suggested an election would be called soon. Trudeau said he would prefer to continue governing rather than have an election. When asked if he would prefer to wait until every Canadian who is willing to get a vaccine to gets one he did not directly answer the question. He added that the timing of an election may be out of the his hands since his is a minority government which could fall if it is not supported by other parties.