The Murray shuffle: please report without comment

After three years of keeping leadership competitor Joyce Murray out of Cabinet, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed the Vancouver Quadra MP to cabinet, filling the vacancy left when Jane Philpott quit over the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

It’s a conflicting media opportunity for the Trudeau government. On one hand, it can helpfully detract from a historic day when the first racialized leader of a Canadian political party, Jagmeet Singh, enters the House and puts his first question to the Prime Minister. On the other hand, it’s a nasty reminder to Canadians of the SNC-Lavalin scandal that has torn at Trudeau’s credibility. On balance, the Trudeau government hopes the shuffle is like a pebble dropped in the water that leaves no ripples.

Rather than select an up-and-coming MP from an electorally competitive seat, Murray’s selection shows a Liberal Party concerned about its own fractures and fissures. Murray ran against Trudeau for the Liberal Party leadership and a mutual dislike between Murray and Trudeau is widely rumoured. Her Vancouver Quadra seat is a Liberal bastion, one of the 34 seats won in their 2011 electoral wipeout. If Trudeau wanted to signal to his caucus that media discretion among those not keen about his leadership is valued, he has done it. It’s quite something that he needs to do so.

Murray’s appointment also reminds Canadians of the alignment between the Trudeau Liberals and their recently-defeated BC cousins. Former BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark has been a leading media defender for Trudeau. Both federal Liberal candidates for Burnaby South were draft from BC Liberal ranks. And Joyce Murray was a member of the BC Liberal government under Gordon Campbell.

The Murray appointment also conflicts with the cabinet shuffle theory that Gerald Butts told to the Justice Committee. The motivation for the shuffle is important because of concerns it was retaliation against an Attorney-General who refused to allow political interference in a criminal prosecution.

Butts’ testified that removing Wilson-Raybould as Attorney-General was required because Philpott was needed at Treasury Board. Philpott’s move opened Indigenous Services, a role so mission-critical only Wilson-Raybould’s would do. Taking Murray from the backbench undercuts Butt’s argument that Treasury Board is such a critically important position – at this point of the mandate, anyway.

Today’s appointment may be one of the rare cabinet shuffles the opposition wants to talk about more than the government.

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