Wilson-Raybould demoted to veterans affairs as Trudeau shuffles cabinet
Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, January 14, 2019 5:11AM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 14, 2019 5:37PM EST
OTTAWA - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejigged his cabinet Monday, adding two new faces and a new ministry and rewarding competence and friendship.
However it was his decision to move Jody Wilson-Raybould that had tongues wagging in political circles, despite Trudeau's insistence that her move from the senior justice portfolio to the junior veterans affairs post was not a demotion.
“I would caution anyone who thinks that serving our veterans and making sure they get the care to which they are so justly entitled from any Canadian government is anything other than a deep and awesome responsibility,” he told a news conference, saying the government owes “a sacred duty” to those who have served the country “with heroism and valour.”
Trudeau praised Wilson-Raybould for overseeing legalization of medical assistance in dying and legalization of cannabis, and said he needed her “tremendous skill in navigating very complex files” at Veterans Affairs.
The shuffle was precipitated by veteran Liberal Scott Brison's surprise decision to retire from politics which left Trudeau's cabinet without a representative from Nova Scotia and without a president of the Treasury Board. The latter is a key economic post that oversees how the government is managed, how it spends money and how it goes about regulating many aspects of Canadians' lives.
Jane Philpott, who has emerged as something of a fixer dispatched to put out political fires, was moved to Treasury Board while longtime Trudeau friend Seamus O'Regan took her place at Indigenous Services.
Bernadette Jordan, a backbencher from rural Nova Scotia, was tapped to take Brison's role as her province's cabinet representative. But rather than move her into O'Regan's previous slot at Veterans Affairs - which has often been used as a training ground for new ministers and would have minimized the number of changes the prime minister had to make - Trudeau created a whole new ministry for her: rural economic development.
The new role is an apparent bid to shore up Liberal support in rural areas, where the Conservatives tend to dominate. Trudeau also made a little history, with Jordan becoming the first female Nova Scotia MP to be named to a federal cabinet. Jordan is tasked with creating a rural-development strategy, including bringing high-speed internet to rural communities and help in rural infrastructure development.
Trudeau's decision to move Wilson-Raybould into Veterans Affairs resulted in the addition of Montreal MP David Lametti, a former law professor, to cabinet as the new justice minister.
Wilson-Raybould, heralded as Canada's first Indigenous justice minister, has been, in many ways, the face of Trudeau's commitment to make reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples his top priority. Moving her to Veterans Affairs looks like a big step down.
Asked after her swearing-in ceremony if she was disappointed with the demotion, a subdued Wilson-Raybould said no. After a lengthy pause, she added: “I would say that I can think of no world in which I would consider working for our veterans in Canada as a demotion.”
Veterans Affairs has long been treated as a junior post by both Liberal and Conservative governments. Perhaps because of that, ministers have regularly gotten into trouble, accused of insensitivity to or betrayal of Canada's military vets. O'Regan had his own share of difficulties in the job, including coming under fire for likening the depression he felt upon leaving a high-profile career in journalism to the post-traumatic stress faced by some veterans.
For some Liberals, who've grumbled about Wilson-Raybould's performance in Justice, the move was long overdue. They have privately complained that she is difficult to get along with and a poor communicator who has taken what some consider a conservative, restrictive approach to respecting charter rights in a number of bills, including those dealing with assisted dying, impaired driving and genetic discrimination.
“I can't imagine where you've been hearing that,” Wilson-Raybould said when asked about the grumblings. She said she's “incredibly proud” of the work she did in Justice.
She later took the unusual step of posting a long defence of her performance at Justice on her website, acknowledging that she's received “many questions and inquires” about why she was shuffled out of that job. She said serving as justice minister “was one of the greatest privileges” of her life but suggested she's accomplished everything in that post that Trudeau had asked of her.
On Twitter, Conservative MP Erin O'Toole said Philpott and Lametti “are solid performers and well regarded,” but called the remainder of Trudeau's move “quite a head-scratcher.” He said Indigenous Peoples and veterans “will be concerned.” Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said the moves amounted to shuffling “the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.”