Trudeau taps climate activist for key role in major cabinet reshuffle

Ottawa (AFP) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday named prominent former climate activist Steven Guilbeault as environment minister in a major post-election cabinet shuffle ahead of a key global climate conference.


At a ceremony in Ottawa, Guilbeault was all smiles as he was sworn in alongside 37 other faces, including Anita Anand who was picked to lead a military plagued by sexual misconduct allegations, and Melanie Joly who was promoted to foreign minister.

His promotion comes just days before global leaders are set to gather in Glasgow for the COP26 summit on climate change.

His activism dates back to his early childhood, according to his government biography, when he climbed a tree behind his home to prevent real estate developers from chopping it down.

Decades later, he scaled Toronto's CN Tower in a stunt to press for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, founded Equiterre -- one of Canada's top environmental organizations -- and worked in senior roles at several other groups including Greenpeace.

"Steven Guilbeault knows the issues, key players and understands the importance of environmental issues," Greenpeace's Patrick Bonin told AFP, praising Trudeau's pick for environment minister.

He said the new minister's pragmatism and strong knowledge of environmental issues will serve Canada well.

Guilbeault was first elected to parliament in 2019, serving as heritage minister in Trudeau's second administration.

He replaces Jonathan Wilkinson, who moves to the natural resources portfolio after recently working with his German counterpart on a target for rich countries to contribute $100 billion a year to help poorer ones fight climate change.

At the COP26 meeting, Guilbeault is expected to tout Canadian measures to cut CO2 emissions including in its oil sector, which is the fourth largest in the world.

Gender parity in cabinet

Trudeau was returned to power in September at the helm, once again, of a minority liberal government, with party standings in the House of Commons almost exactly the same as prior to the snap election.

It was not the outcome he'd hoped for, with strong support for his Liberals for their solid pandemic response suddenly dissipating midway through the campaign as voter fatigue with his administration -- first elected in a landslide in 2015 -- set in.

But in his first post-election news conference earlier this month, Trudeau claimed his minority Liberal government had been given a mandate "to move even stronger, even faster on the big things that Canadians really want."

He listed priorities such as accelerating the fight against climate change, further boosting Canada's Covid vaccination rates -- already among the highest in the world -- bolstering the economic recovery, and continuing reconciliation with indigenous tribes.

The reshuffled cabinet consists of 38 ministers in total, with an equal number of women and men. Chrystia Freeland, it was previously announced, keeps her dual roles as deputy prime minister and finance minister.

Several former ministers were dropped including former astronaut Marc Garneau, and others were shuffled to new posts in a bid to breathe new life into the beleaguered Liberal party.

Joly, who was co-campaign chair of the Liberals' re-election campaign and held minor posts in past Trudeau administrations, becomes Canada's fifth foreign minister in six years.

Although Trudeau declared "Canada is back" in 2015 and marked a few early successes including the airlift of Syrian refugees, and the ratification of Europe, North America and Pacific trade deals, his foreign policy has been arguably timid in a world facing a growing number of crises.

Anand, who'd previously been in charge of the nation's vaccine procurement, meanwhile, faces a difficult task changing the culture of the military.

The Canadian Armed Forces, Trudeau recently said, "still don't get it" following several allegations of sexual misconduct in the military's top ranks this year.

He was reacting to the appointment, to lead a review of sexual misconduct cases, of a general who wrote a positive character reference to a judge for a soldier found guilty of sexually assaulting another.