Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled some key front bench posts in a cabinet shakeup Tuesday morning, prompted by longtime Liberal Navdeep Bains’ decision to step down as a minister.

Bains announced Tuesday that he will not be running in the next federal election, and would be leaving cabinet, citing a desire to spend more time with his family. He will be staying on as the MP for Mississauga-Malton, Ont. until Canadians next go to the polls. The timing of Bains’ departure sparked questions about whether the next federal vote could be looming.

The prime minister is asserting the shuffle isn’t meant to be seen as pre-election positioning, though he is not ruling out there being a snap federal campaign before all Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19.

With a minority government, the next election could be called ahead of the next scheduled election date of Oct. 16, 2023, as few minorities last a full term. While the Liberals have faced a few close calls, with opposition parties signalling they do not have confidence in Trudeau’s government, so far they have held on to power.

Trudeau reiterated Tuesday that the Liberals do not want an election right now, and his “preference” would be that a federal race would be put off at least until mass vaccinations are complete. However, he did not make an outright commitment to not trigger an election, saying that in a minority it could be up to the opposition parties.

GARNEAU, CHAMPAGNE MOVED 

As a result of Bains’ departure, Francois-Philippe Champagne has been named Bains’ replacement as the minister of innovation, science and industry.

“I think it goes without saying that the prime minister is looking ahead and certainly would want ministers to be present,” Champagne said in a post-shuffle press conference. “The prime minister wanted to have continuity, and a kind of a transition to make sure that that the people who served on cabinet would be there for the long term.” 

Champagne, who represents the riding of Saint-Maurice-Champlain, Que. will now be focused on the Canadian innovation, manufacturing and engineering sectors’ post-pandemic economic recovery.

Taking over for Champagne, who was not in the portfolio long, Marc Garneau is assuming the role of foreign affairs minister and command at Global Affairs Canada.

The position is viewed as one of the most senior and high-profile within the federal cabinet, and Garneau will now have to stickhandle several hot diplomatic files, including picking up the push to free two Canadians detained in China.

Citing his time spent living in the United States, Garneau said he knows how important that bilateral relationship will be to Canada as well, with U.S. president-elect Joe Biden taking office on Jan. 20.

Garneau is a former Liberal leadership contender and has been an MP since 2008. He is currently representing Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Westmount, Que.

He had been Trudeau’s transport minister, a position that is being given to a newcomer to cabinet: Ontario Liberal MP Omar Alghabra. He has represented the riding of Mississauga Centre, Ont. since 2015 but was also an MP between 2006-2008 and has held parliamentary secretary roles before receiving this promotion.

Alghabra will soon be facing questions about the federal government’s plans to potentially bail out Canadian airlines who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 travel restrictions. He’s also picking up Canada’s efforts to seek justice and compensation from Iran over the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 tragedy.

He promised Tuesday to get up to speed quickly on his files, saying he understands the urgency of some key decisions he’ll be a part of in the weeks ahead.

As well, Jim Carr who had stepped back from cabinet while he received cancer treatment, now has regained the title of special representative to the Prairies. The prime minister said he was glad to have Carr back around the table, and to see him healthy. The role is one Carr was first given after the 2019 federal election saw the Liberals entirely wiped out of Saskatchewan and Alberta as a way to still have Liberal cabinet representation from the prairies. He is the MP for Winnipeg South Centre, Man.

“Carr will continue to actively engage Canadians across the Prairies, listen to their challenges, opportunities, and interests, and bring their perspectives to Cabinet discussions,” said the PMO in a statement.

Having cross-Canada ministerial representation is viewed as key come election time, as is having a front bench comprised of MPs who intend to run again.

Asked Tuesday how confident he is that more Liberals will be elected in Western Canada in the next election, Carr said it’ll be key to show that the party can represent people from the Prairies well. 

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette oversaw the virtual swearing-in ceremony, which was held in a Zoom-like format with each participant taking the oath in their respective offices.

“Lots of work ahead,” Trudeau said during the ceremony.

This is not the first time Trudeau has had to shuffle his cabinet following the departure of a key member. The most recent prior shuffle was prompted by Bill Morneau’s resignation as finance minister in August, amid the WE Charity conflict of interest controversy.

In a video statement posted Tuesday, Bains said it was “time” for him to put his family first, but thanked Trudeau for the opportunity to be a minister for the last five years. In his time overseeing Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, Bains sought to develop what have been called innovation “superclusters,” and has played a key role in the effort to see Canadian companies re-tool to manufacture personal protective equipment to combat COVID-19. Most recently, Bains ushered in a new “digital charter” setting out new privacy protections for Canadian consumers. Champagne will now be picking up these files.

Bains has been involved with the Liberal Party for many years, has been a key player in bringing in supporters within the suburban GTA, and in the 2019 federal election he was the Ontario co-chair Trudeau’s reelection campaign.

He said he will continue to knock on doors and campaign for the party in the future, but he sees Alghabra taking on his political leadership role with the Liberals.

During his press conference, Trudeau said that Bains called him and asked to go for “a walk in the snow,” a term used by Canadian politicians when considering ending their political careers.

“I was busy coming up with all sorts of arguments as to why, you know, we should continue to work together the way we have been. And as we walked around the grounds of Rideau Hall — physically distanced with masks on — it became very clear that this was the right decision for him for his family,” Trudeau said Tuesday, noting Bains was well into politics when Trudeau got his start.

PRE-PARLIAMENT RETREAT STARTS 

The shuffle — involving a small number of ministers, but shaking up some top jobs — came just hours before the start of the federal Liberal cabinet retreat where the federal government plans to plot out their pandemic path ahead, prior to Parliament’s return on Jan. 25.

The retreat is usually an in-person gathering in a politically-apt selected city, but this confab is entirely virtual due to the record-breaking number of new COVID-19 cases being reported in many parts of Canada as the second wave of the virus rages on.

Taking place in four sessions between Jan. 12 and 21, the retreat is focusing on the ongoing vaccine rollout, international pandemic border measures, as well as the state of COVID-19 aid benefits, according to Trudeau’s office.

The discussion is also likely to touch on the state of the Canada-U.S. relationship with the incoming Biden administration, and the plans the Liberals have for the post-pandemic rebuilding which are set to be outlined in more detail in the next federal budget.

"I certainly hope to be able to work constructively in Parliament this winter and spring,” Trudeau said.