Prime minister prepares for Trump reign with new faces, portfolios

Donald Trump doesn’t officially become the United States’ 45th president until Jan. 20, but his pending move into the oval office is already causing a ripple effect north of the border.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shaken up his cabinet, a move widely believed was done to better position Ottawa’s front bench with the emerging cabinet south of the border.

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, whose background in agriculture had made her a key contact for many farm groups, is now Canada’s foreign affairs minister. A former business reporter in the U.S., pundits have said they expect Freeland was picked because of her connections in Washington and beyond.

She replaces former Liberal leader Stephan Dion, who was not given another cabinet post. Dion has said he will “deploy my efforts outside active politics.” He has not said what he plans to do.

François-Philippe Champagne, formerly the parliamentary secretary for Finance Minister Bill Morneau, takes over for Freeland in the international trade file, although he will not be responsible for Canada-U.S. trade. That prestigious file, which includes the North American Free Trade Agreement, remains under Freeland’s watchful eye.

Champagne is an international lawyer who has worked in several high profile business positions before entering politics in 2015, winning the rural Quebec riding of Saint-Maurice-Champlain. He is now responsible for Ottawa’s trade ambitions with countries such as China, Japan, and Britain.

To divide up the international trade file between ministers is not a typical move. Trade is usually left under one ministry.

The decision to keep the U.S. file with Freeland has most in Ottawa’s inner network expecting Canada’s relationship with the U.S. to be one closely watched by the prime minister’s office and other key financial advisers.

Dominic Barton, who chairs Marceau’s economic growth committee, has cautioned that Ottawa will need to keep a close eye on Washington, warning that the president-elect’s position on trade and taxes may result in Ottawa needing to act and respond quickly.

Barton has repeatedly urged Ottawa to consider agriculture as a key sector for Canadian economic growth going forward.

Ottawa’s shake-up also has implications closer to home. Winnipeg MP MaryAnn Mihychuk, who had been Canada’s employment minister, was booted from cabinet. Her removal was somewhat expected after she was relieved of most of her internal cabinet responsibilities last summer.

Status of Women Minister Patti Hadju will now take over the employment file, which includes Canada’s beleaguered Temporary Foreign Worker Program, a key file for Canada’s agriculture industry.

The cabinet will gather in Calgary for a retreat Jan. 23, which is a week before Parliament resumes in Ottawa. Politicians come back Jan. 30.

The prime minister’s office has said it also expects to soon shuffle its parliamentary secretaries, whose terms are up this month.

The cabinet shake-up isn’t the only recent shuffle in Ottawa: Agriculture Canada has a new associate deputy minister.

Tom Rosser, formerly from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, has taken over for former Agriculture Canada assistant deputy minister Greg Meredith.

Meredith left Agriculture Canada in December to head Ontario’s agriculture and rural affairs ministry.

Prior to his appointment, he had been Ottawa’s lead bureaucrat in the ongoing negotiations of the next agriculture policy framework. Rosser will now head those discussions.

Meanwhile, south of the border, all eyes are on the still vacant U.S. agriculture secretary position. Outgoing U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack resigned Jan. 13, leaving America’s top farm position vacant.

As of press time Jan. 16, there was still no word on who would fill the position.

The agriculture secretary is a key point of contact for Canadian officials, including Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay, whenever there are disputes or concerns on Canadian-U.S. agriculture files.

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