OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau will shuffle his cabinet Monday to fill the gap left by veteran MP Scott Brison's resignation.
But it remains to be seen whether the prime minister will take the opportunity to do a broader shakeup of his front bench to ensure it's in fighting form for the coming fall election.
"Obviously, this will require some changes to our cabinet and that's something that we're going to be announcing on Monday," Trudeau said Thursday, hours after Brison announced he's quitting cabinet.
He refused to tip his hand as to how big the shuffle will be. "This is an announcement that we will be making on Monday," was all he'd say.
Brison announced Thursday that he won't seek re-election this fall because he wants to spend more time with his young family. He said he's quitting cabinet now because he believes the government is best served by ministers who are running again.
There could be others in the same boat.
Of Trudeau's 34 ministers, eight have yet to be nominated to run in the coming election: Amarjeet Sohi, Ralph Goodale, Jean-Yves Duclos, Francois-Philippe Champagne, Diane Lebouthillier, Lawrence MacAulay, Pablo Rodriguez and Jody Wilson-Raybould. That does not, however, necessarily mean they don't intend to seek re-election.
MacAulay has said he's running again and Rodriguez has scheduled an event next month to raise money for his 2019 campaign. The party expects other ministers to be nominated over the next month.
At a minimum, Brison's departure will probably mean at least two changes to the cabinet.
First, Trudeau will need to find a replacement for Brison as the cabinet representative from Nova Scotia. On that score, the names of veteran MP Rodger Cuzner and rookies Bernadette Jordan and Sean Fraser figured prominently in the Parliament Hill rumour mill that revved into high gear moments after Brison's announcement.
Whoever fills that hole, Liberal insiders suspect the newcomer will be named to a relatively junior post, with a more seasoned minister being moved to replace Brison as president of the Treasury Board. It's a low-profile, unglamorous job but an important one as guardian of the public purse and the person who says no to big spenders on the front bench.
Trudeau himself seemed to suggest Thursday that the role requires an experienced minister as he praised Brison.
"His thoughtfulness, his capacity to understand how best to deliver programming, his ability to understand Canadians through his many, many years of service was extremely valuable around the cabinet table," Trudeau said.
Brison, a one-time investment banker who started his political career with the Progressive Conservatives, was seen as something of a fiscal conservative. Trudeau might want to find another fiscal hawk to fill the post, especially since the coming election promises to be, in part, a referendum on the Liberals' broken promise to run only modest deficits for a couple of years before balancing the books by this year.
Trudeau could choose to do a bigger shakeup, including adding more fresh faces to the cabinet lineup. Among other possible additions whose names were circulating Thursday were Quebec MP Joel Lightbound, who has impressed people as parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, and British Columbia MP Terry Beech, who has found a way to remain a team player despite personally opposing the government-approved Trans Mountain pipeline expansion through his riding.
Brison has been the face of the federal Liberals in Nova Scotia, where the party won every seat in 2015. But that could have proved a liability in the coming campaign due to his proximity to the story of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, who is facing charges of breach of trust related to allegations he leaked cabinet secrets to promote a navy shipbuilding contract.
Norman's case is to go to trial late this summer, just as the campaign for the Oct. 21 election is getting underway. Norman's lawyers are hoping to make Brison a star witness.
The defence alleges that Brison pressured the new Trudeau government in 2015 to suspend a $700-million plan to build a new supply ship, a move the Crown says prompted Norman to leak secrets to Quebec's Davie Shipbuilding so it could pressure the Liberals into restarting the project.
Norman's lawyers have also accused Brison of lobbying on behalf of Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding, which wanted the Liberals to cancel the Davie deal and hire Irving for the supply-ship job instead.
Brison has denied the allegations, telling the House of Commons that he simply did his job as Treasury Board president to ensure taxpayers were getting good value for the ship contract.
Brison insisted Thursday that his decision to retire from politics had absolutely nothing to do with the Norman affair.
Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press