Trudeau to shuffle cabinet

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Reuters file photo)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will shuffle his cabinet on Wednesday, and insiders say he may well move Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland into a new job and ask her to prevent a national unity crisis.

Trudeau's Liberals lost their majority in an October election and now have no legislators in the western energy-producing provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, which oppose tougher environmental laws that critics say could cripple the oil industry. Polls show separatist sentiment is growing.

Freeland was born in Alberta and grew up there. Three Liberal sources say Trudeau's team is seriously considering whether to make her minister of intergovernmental affairs, the government's point person to deal with the provinces.

To underscore the importance of Freeland's role within the government, Trudeau will also name her deputy prime minister, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported. Trudeau did not name a deputy prime minister after taking power in 2015.

Two days after the election, Trudeau promised to address the concerns of the West, fight climate change and help Canadians tackle cost-of-living increases during his second term.

Trudeau is due to release the names of his cabinet and swear them in at about 1.30 p.m. ET (1830 GMT) and will hold a news conference at 3.30 p.m. ET.

Freeland, often touted as a possible successor to Trudeau at the head of Liberal party, led Canada through 15 months of tough talks to renegotiate a new continental trade treaty.

Public broadcaster Radio-Canada said on Tuesday that Freeland would be replaced by Infrastructure Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.

"There are still some big foreign affairs files but does she need to handle them? No," said one senior Liberal, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.

"You have to take the people with star power and deploy them to address your biggest concerns."

National unity tensions are a particularly painful issue in Canada, where the province of Quebec held a 1995 referendum on independence that only just failed.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney regularly castigates Ottawa for treating his province badly, and the Liberal government's challenge grew ever larger on Tuesday when workers at Canadian National Railway went on strike, hitting western exports such as grain and oil.

The Liberal sources said the decisions were not final and last-minute changes were still possible.

The offices of Trudeau and Freeland declined to comment. 

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