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Trudeau Should Shuffle His PMO, Too

01/12/2017 11:32 EST

trudeau cabinet

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (C) takes part in a news conference on Parliament Hill following a cabinet shuffle in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Jan. 10, 2017. (Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Justin Trudeau just shuffled his cabinet. It was needed and timely, and not just because self-confessed "pussy grabber," liar, racist, misogynist, xenophobe and bully billionaire president-elect, Donald Trump, is set to take the reins of the United States.

There were other legitimate reasons obvious for anyone to see, such as rookie ministers screwing up simple or not-so-simple issues and damaging the Trudeau brand. The shuffle, while staunching the bleeding on the electoral reform and other files, also prepares Canada for a fast-changing world with violent turmoil in the Middle East and parts of Africa; the insurgent radical right in Europe; Brexit; as well as the Trump upheaval causing tremors in the politics and economy of our next-door neighbour and the rest of world.

Chrystia Freeland moved from trade to foreign affairs, and veterans such as John McCallum and Stephane Dion (who both served Canada with dedication and distinction) are gone from the cabinet table. Maryam Monsef has been shifted from the difficult electoral reform file to the status of women. There are some new faces, including Ahmed Hussen in immigration.

trudeau cabinet

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (bottom row C) poses with members of his pr-shuffle cabinet after their swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa Nov. 4, 2015. (Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Beyond that, the Trudeau shuffle is already old news and business as usual, Ottawa-style, is likely to take over in Ottawa.

But Trudeau needs another shuffle -- no, not a cabinet shuffle, but a shuffle nonetheless -- to shake up the PMO that has brought him so much grief over the past several months. In his heart of hearts, Trudeau probably knows he needs it. Those in the PMO around him may not yet or ever see the need for one; they may be willfully blind because, if ever the prime minister so decided, it could be some of them who would be next to be shuffled out or dumped.

Who deserves to be fired or demoted from Trudeau's PMO? Some of the powerful political appointees who are the architects of government policies, strategies and tactics comes to mind -- those who advise the prime minister and his cabinet on matters of ever-evolving policy and the shifting sands of question period.

In his heart of hearts, Trudeau probably knows he needs it.

The powerful men and women in the PMO who send forth ministers armed with questionable pronouncements clad in what they deem clever words to perform impossible somersaults, twists and turns in the House on serious issues had obviously crafted the scripts for MP Maryam Monsef and House Leader Bardish Chagger -- something they do for most ministers.

Monsef was a rookie minister and clearly didn't remember that her brief was not to lecture colleagues, but to shepherd electoral reform through the House. Only a rookie minister armed with talking points from the PMO and its wordsmiths would have publicly reasoned that public consultations were superior to public referendums as a way of deciding what kind of an electoral system Canadians prefer.

Chagger, also a rookie obviously guided by the PMO, spoke endlessly about how the "cash for access" being granted by the prime minister and his ministers was all well and good -- all within the ambit of the law -- while she and her boss the PM must have known all along that the original ministerial mandates were being grossly and blatantly violated.

bardish chagger

Government House Leader Bardish Chagger speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Oct. 25, 2016. (Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters)

It was also the PMO that advised and/or insisted that Trudeau's inadvisable, secret and ultimately not-so-secret vacation on Aga Khan's private island didn't raise any conflict of interest or ethical questions. The advisers must have been willfully blind to the clear but awful optics of the prime minister -- and a champion of middle-class Canadians, no less -- spending secret time at a private island of a billionaire.

Even more troubling is the fact that the prime minister or no one around him saw any ethical concerns in the fact that said billionaire's charitable foundations have received and may continue to receive money from the government that Trudeau now heads. How could they bungle things so badly -- and how could the PM allow them to?

As a consequence of PMO's bad advice and /or untimely silence, when speaking truth to the prime ministerial power may have been warranted, Trudeau has had to embark on a hastily scheduled Canadian "listening tour." To do the "listening," he is even giving the Trump inauguration a miss.

Trudeau's inner circle/PMO is mainly responsible for the mess he faces.

Talking to Canadians is always important for any prime minister. However it is not responsible for Trudeau to skip Trump's swearing-in. Despite most Canadians' dislike of what Trump stands for, the U.S.-Canada relationship is the most important among Canada's country-to-country relationships.

In sum, Trudeau's inner circle/PMO is mainly responsible for the mess he faces. His PMO team requires strengthening, whether by addition or subtraction. It certainly needs overhauling substantially, if not fully. If Trudeau doesn't do it soon, he may have to be on permanent standby for even more hurriedly scheduled listening tours across the country.

Prime minister! Happy listening (and shuffling) in 2017.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story indicated that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled his cabinet on Nov. 10, 2016. The shuffle took place Jan. 10, 2017.

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