Canada’s Trudeau names veteran activist as environment minister, sparking green hopes

Steven Guilbeault is sworn in as the Minister for Environment and Climate Change during a presentation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new Cabinet in Ottawa. PHOTO: REUTERS

OTTAWA (REUTERS) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday (Oct 26) named long-time activist Steven Guilbeault as environment minister, sparking hopes among green advocates that Ottawa would double down on a climate record they say is poor.

Guilbeault was named as part of a major Cabinet shuffle by Trudeau, following a September vote that saw the latter reelected for the second time.

Trudeau says addressing climate change is a major priority.

His government already has imposed a carbon tax and plans to curb harmful emissions in the energy sector.

Guilbeault, who La Presse newspaper once dubbed "the green Jesus of Montreal", has worked for green groups for more than 20 years. In 2001, he climbed the CN Tower in Toronto to protest Canada's environmental record.

He entered parliament in 2019, becoming heritage minister, but was widely criticized for proposing broadcast legislation that critics said would harm freedom of speech.

Trudeau also appointed new ministers of defense, foreign affairs and natural resources. Fewer than 10 of the 38 ministers kept their existing positions.

His Liberals hold 159 seats in parliament but do not have the 170 needed to pass legislation without the support of an opposition party. Minority governments do not usually last a full four-year term in Canada.

Trudeau earlier announced that Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is also deputy prime minister, would be staying in her job. He is due to address reporters at 1.30pm Eastern Time (2.30am on Wednesday, Singapore time).

Guilbeault replaces Jonathan Wilkinson, who moves to the natural resources portfolio.

Despite Trudeau's focus on the environment, green groups note that emissions of greenhouse gases per capita are among the highest in the world, thanks in part to the oil and gas industry in western Canada.

Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada praised Guilbeault as a man who knew key players and realised how much was at stake.

"Implementing and raising the Liberal government's climate commitments is going to take the whole government pulling hard in the same direction," he said by email.

Among the other major changes, Melanie Joly became Canada's fifth foreign minister under Trudeau. Anita Anand takes over at defense from Harjit Sajjan, who has been widely assailed over what critics say is a lacklustre effort to address allegations of sexual assault in the military.

Last month's vote marked Trudeau's third win as Liberal leader. Unhappiness over his decision to call an early election during the pandemic left him short of a majority.

Trudeau's other priorities include managing Covid-19, bolstering healthcare, supporting economic growth, delivering national childcare and affordable housing plans, a Liberal source said.

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