National Newswatch

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau carved new roles in his government Wednesday designed to ensure voices on the Prairies are heard around a cabinet table that has scant representation from the region.

As part of a broad shuffle that put new faces in charge of several key portfolios that directly touch on western concerns, former cabinet minister Jim Carr was also named Trudeau's "special representative" for Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

In a statement, Carr described the job as being Trudeau's "eyes and ears in the West."

"I'm a lifelong westerner and have a deep attachment to the region," he said. 

"Many western Canadians are feeling frustrated. I will work with them, listen to them and advocate for a strong West in a united Canada."

Carr is currently being treated for a form of blood cancer, but Trudeau said Wednesday he knows the Winnipeg MP remains committed to the job.

"It is something that we have chosen to make sure that we have a strong voice reporting directly to me and to cabinet on the concerns faced by the Prairies," Trudeau said.

"We will continue to work every day as an active group of ministers who will engage right across the country on all issues that matter."

The move follows the Liberals' complete shutout in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the October federal election, including the loss of two cabinet ministers. The Liberals also lost three seats in Manitoba.

Carr formerly served as both natural resources minister and minister for international trade diversification, two portfolios especially top of mind in the Prairies, given struggles in the energy sector and ongoing trade disputes. He was leading the Canadian charge at the World Trade Organization over China's ban on Canadian canola shipments.

In another move designed as outreach to the West, Trudeau resurrected the position of deputy prime minister, giving it to former foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland, who will also be in charge of intergovernmental affairs.

Freeland, though an MP for a Toronto riding, was born in Alberta.

She will now bring her diplomatic skills to bear on the home front at a time when provincial-federal relationships are exceptionally rocky due to issues like the federal carbon tax, immigration and the Trans Mountain pipeline.

The West sent a clear message to the Liberals during the campaign, Freeland said Wednesday.

"Now is the moment when we need to respond, to begin with by listening really, really hard and really effectively," she said. 

Responses to Freeland and Carr's appointments had a common theme: both are competent parliamentarians, but what's needed is action.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said he wants to see movement on pipelines and building flood protection.

"When we see that real progress, that will go a long way to addressing some of the concerns of my colleagues to the west, and I think to the east as well," he said.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who had a tense meeting with Trudeau last week, said he too is waiting to see what transpires.

Moe has presented Trudeau with a list of demands the premier says will alleviate some frustration in the West if they are fulfilled. They include pausing the federal carbon tax and reworking the equalization formula.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who has equally been hammering at the Trudeau Liberals for weeks, took a gentler tone Wednesday.

"The Government of Alberta hopes to find common ground with the federal government to create jobs and growth, in part through responsible resource development, and to ensure fairness in the Canadian federation," he said on social media. 

The appointments can only go so far, said Martha Hall Findlay, president of the Canada West Foundation, where Carr was once a board member.

"The prime minister's first responsibility is the national interest and with that is national unity," she said.

"This is a responsibility that simply can't be delegated."

Other MPs from the West who nabbed a spot in cabinet include Winnipeg's Dan Vandal, appointed minister of northern affairs. British Columbia's Jonathan Wilkinson was shuffled to Environment from Fisheries, and Carla Qualtrough, also from B.C., was moved to Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion from her previous role as minister of public services, procurement and accessibility.

Trudeau also appointed his longtime friend Seamus O'Regan, who hails from Newfoundland and Labrador, to the natural resources portfolio, the ministry charged with overseeing oil-pipeline construction.

He has previously served as veterans affairs minister and minister for Indigenous services.

Earlier this year, he gave a widely panned speech to the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association’s annual conference, where he defended Liberal legislation that many in the industry disliked.

"This is the third cabinet portfolio O'Regan has held in the last three years — each one has been a bigger disaster than the last," said a statement from the Opposition Conservatives.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2019.

Stephanie Levitz , The Canadian Press

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