In 2022, there was speculation that Justin Trudeau might not finish his term or run again in October 2025. We wondered when he was going to “take a walk in the snow”, as his father did it in 1984 to orchestrate his departure. Winning a fourth election is a miracle in Canadian politics, the last one being Wilfrid Laurier in 1908.
The arrival of Pierre Poilievre in the chair of the Leader of the Opposition in the fall has, in a way, perked up Mr. Trudeau. We noticed that the Prime Minister was more combative in the House of Commons during the session last fall. He also showed confidence during his testimony to the Rouleau commission on the state of emergency. Recognized for his good performance during election campaigns, Mr. Trudeau now has a strong opponent who motivates him to return. The doubt about his departure has faded.
The game of predictions is now focused on the calendar of the Trudeau-Poilievre electoral face-off. Will Mr. Trudeau go all out with a snap election or will he wait until 2025 in hopes of making his mark in the history books? It’s hard to predict when Canadians will be called to the polls.
The life expectancy of a minority government is 18 months to two and a half years. An early election could therefore take place as early as April 2023, which coincides with the publication of the federal budget. If an early federal election is called in 2023 or 2024, it will be because Justin Trudeau will have detected somewhere in the political oracles the possibility of winning, and to hell with the agreement with the New Democratic Party (NDP) until 2025 ! But he will also have to ask himself whether his entire present ministerial team will be there.
State of play
It is clear that several ministers of the Trudeau government have reached an honorable age. Far be it from me to reopen the debate on retirement at 65 or 67 or to want to be accused of ageism, but note that there are currently five ministers who are over 68 years old.
Lawrence A. MacAulay, Minister of Veterans Affairs, is the dean of the cabinet, at 76. Carolyn Bennett, Minister for Mental Health and Addictions, and Helena Jaczek, Minister for Public Services and Procurement, are both 72. Bill Blair, Minister of Emergency Preparedness, and Joyce Murray, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, are 68 years old. We remember that Marc Garneau had been dismissed from his post as Minister of Foreign Affairs, in October 2021, at the age of 71.
It should be noted that, if an MP was elected in 2015 and is 55 or older, he is now entitled to a full pension, granted after six years of service. This is the case for several ministers, including the Minister of National Revenue, Diane Lebouthillier, as well as the ministers responsible for the various regional economic development agencies, Dan Vandal, Gudie Hutchings and Filomena Tassi. Representing yourself with the possibility of sitting in opposition always leans in the reflection.
The current Trudeau cabinet, made up of 29 ministers, therefore has 9 members who may not stand for re-election. It is customary for ministers who will not defend their seat as MPs to give way to the ministerial team who will be there for the elections. It is according to this reasoning that I put forward the hypothesis of a ministerial reshuffle in 2023.
Due to the records of these ministers, this will not be a major reshuffle. In this game of musical chairs, the pillars of government, namely Finance, Foreign Affairs, Defence, Health or Industry, will remain unchanged. Still, the case of Chrystia Freeland is more complicated. It is unclear whether the minister and deputy prime minister has truly given up on NATO this fall, now that the door to the succession of Justin Trudeau is closed. Will she leave after the tabling of the 2023 budget?
A new minister needs time to get used to his new files. Logic therefore dictates that a reshuffle should take place before the resumption of parliamentary proceedings or during a break. If Mr. Trudeau does not make a change in January, the next opportunity to do so will be February 20, early April or after the budget.
In the constitution of the Council of Ministers, parity and geographical distribution are key elements. If it weren’t for this factor, one can imagine that the Quebec Liberal MP for Louis-Hébert, Joël Lightbound, would have been a minister a long time ago. A ministerial reshuffle is also an opportunity to promote deserving MPs and bring in new blood to fight against the image of the wear and tear of power. It also helps to give visibility to MPs for re-election. And it is also an opportunity to temper the discontent of members who are unhappy about not having more responsibilities in the caucus.
Beyond the need to make room for the electoral team, the exercise could also allow Mr. Trudeau to assess the performance of his ministers. Currently, no minister has paid the political price for the setbacks at passport offices and our airports, for delays in immigration or for the chaotic management of public safety. It would therefore be a good opportunity to shuffle the cards to prepare for the upcoming electoral battle. If there is a reshuffle, there will be elections.