jueves, junio 13

Justin Trudeau taps former police chief Bill Blair to be defense minister

Blair will step into managing those hot files now, raising questions about how his approach will differ.

On the same day south of the border, Lt. Gen. Gregory Guillot, nominated by President Joe Biden to assume command of NORAD, committed to have tough conversations with Canada about pulling its weight on defense spending when pressed at his confirmation hearings by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).

The changes come as the prime minister moves to shore up his position and rearrange key players two years into his government, roughly the half-way point to the next election.

Anand is taking what could be considered a promotion or a lateral move to a department respected in Ottawa but generally unidentifiable to Canadians outside the capital.

Although not everyone sees it that way.

The Opposition Conservatives saw it as a clear demotion, with the party’s leader Pierre Poilievre describing it as “more disrespect for women in Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.”

Blair’s move is a clearer promotion, rebounding his political career much to the astonishment of his critics.

Stephen Saideman, a defense expert at Carleton University, said he is disappointed to see Anand leave from a “very difficult job” she was handling well, and that it’s odd Blair is taking the helm since he was “subject of a lot of controversy.”

Anand was pressing for cultural change within the military, but they may view the arrival of Blair “as an opportunity to return to the old ways.”

“I don’t think he covered himself in glory in his previous jobs, so people may be looking to him as having a soft touch,” he said. “That might mean people who have been resisting change will resist it further within the military.”

Blair is a former Toronto police chief who most recently served in Cabinet as emergency preparedness minister, dealing with Canada’s raging wildfires.

Asked by a reporter what kind of message it sends to remove a woman from defense and replace her with a man, Trudeau said he has “tremendous” confidence in Blair.

The prime minister said Blair’s leadership on dealing with devastating floods and wildfires over the past few years has shown “exactly how much Canadians need our Armed Forces to be there to step up with the right tools, the right abilities, but also the right culture change that Anita Anand has started in such strong ways.”

With a penchant for acquiring tough files that call for blabbing problems away, Blair’s government career trajectory has been a rollercoaster ride — even recently engulfed in scandal.

His career path zig-zagged from the lower-middle ranks. Once made a point-person for defending legalizing recreational cannabis because of his hardened cop credentials, he moved up to a major Cabinet post of public safety, which deals with national security matters, following the 2019 election.

After overseeing the U.S.-Canada border closure during the Covid pandemic, his portfolio was split in 2021, and he lost public safety, knocking him down a peg.

In the halved role, he dealt with a convoy protest that effectively shut down the capital and managed emergency responses to a succession of natural disasters.

The Conservatives have demanded his resignation over allegations of political interference in the federal government’s response to a mass shooting in Nova Scotia.

“Blair should have been sacked for politically interfering,” tweeted Conservative defense critic James Bezan Wednesday. “But Trudeau gave him a promotion instead.”

Blair also became the center of controversy in recent months when it came out that as public safety minister, he failed to read a national security memo that would have told him Opposition MP Michael Chong and other MPs with family in China were being targeted by Beijing as it sought to interfere in Canadian politics.

But retired Col. Michel Drapeau, a military lawyer, said there’s a logic to putting Blair in his new role.

“He comes from a uniform background,” he said. “He’s got the kind of personality in fact that the department needs, a kind of ‘follow me’ type of guy.”

When Anand became the second woman ever to be minister of defense, her initial appointment as a military outsider sent a message the government was serious in addressing sexual misconduct issues and cultural change in the military.

And she oversaw the development and release of the Liberal government’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

One Liberal insider who spoke to POLITICO said when Anand’s name comes up, the prime minister’s office gushes about her abilities and sees her as a competent player who could be plugged into various roles and excel.

Her time helming defense came on the heels of a stint as procurement minister during the pandemic, in which she rapidly rose to prominence and successfully managed Canada’s vaccine supply.

Anand is also widely rumored to be a leadership aspirant, one of several ministers quietly readying behind the scenes for once Trudeau does finally decide to step aside.

Her new job will raise more questions about that bid, given it is traditionally a much less visible role that could lower her media profile — especially as war rages in Europe.

Senior government officials signaled most of the government’s Cabinet changes ahead of time in a string of leaks, branding it as a refresh to put its best communicators in key positions and shore up their credibility on the economy.

Anand’s new gig is also being branded as a move to Cabinet’s economic team, even by the minister herself — despite that her new department is not traditionally seen as such a job.

Which raises questions about whether there’s another role in store for her down the line.

“I am also extremely excited to work with this extraordinary team on economic policy matters,” she told reporters while flanked by the finance and industry ministers, pointing to her 25 years of expertise as a university law professor specializing in corporate governance and capital markets.