By Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled much of his cabinet on Wednesday, with the aim of increasing focus on economic issues like a housing shortage and the rising cost of living that have hurt his standing with voters.
It could be the last shakeup before an election, which is not due until the second half of 2025 but could come earlier.
Liberal leader Trudeau, who has been in power since 2015, brought seven new people into cabinet, but kept heavy hitters such as Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and Foreign Minister Melanie Joly in their portfolios.
The prime minister changed or tweaked the job descriptions of about three-quarters of the positions compared with his previous cabinet, with former immigration minister Sean Fraser taking over a newly formed Housing, Infrastructure and Communities ministry.
“This is not tinkering, it is a major reset,” said Frank Graves, president of polling company Ekos. “The shuffle does send a clear message that the government is aware that their current standing with the electorate is not healthy.”
Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre has capitalized on a housing shortage and spiking inflation. An Abacus Data poll out on Wednesday shows his party opening up a big lead on the Liberals with 38% to 28% in public support.
“Bringing in fresh energy with new members and new challenges was important for our economic team in particular,” Trudeau told reporters after the shuffle. “We’re facing significant economic challenges – housing, the cost of living inflation and interest rates.”
Poilievre pounced on the shuffle, calling it evidence of the prime minister’s failures.
“His mass firing of ministers is Trudeau’s admission that his government is failing as everything costs more, work doesn’t pay, housing costs have doubled and crime and drugs are common on our streets,” he posted on messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
The timing of the next election is unclear, since Trudeau commands only a parliamentary minority and relies on support from the leftist New Democrats to govern. That party has agreed to keep him in power until 2025, but the deal is not binding.
“We expect to be able to govern for a couple more years,” Trudeau told reporters, saying an early vote was not expected.
“No amount of shuffling can ‘refresh’ a government and PM who have been around for 8 years,” said Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute polling company, adding that an election was probably not around the corner.
“With the Conservatives leading the Liberals by a handful of points in the latest polls, the best thing the Liberals can do is run the clock and hope cost of living is no longer a ballot issue by the time they do seek another mandate.”