OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau turned Monday to erstwhile leadership rival Joyce Murray to fill the second void in his cabinet triggered by the SNC-Lavalin affair.
In his third shuffle in two months, Trudeau elevated the veteran Vancouver MP to president of the Treasury Board, a cabinet slot vacated two weeks ago by Jane Philpott.
Philpott resigned in solidarity with former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, who quit last month amid allegations she was improperly pressured by Trudeau, his staff and others to halt a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin on bribery and corruption charges related to contracts in Libya.
Wilson-Raybould's departure came one month after she was moved out of the prestigious justice portfolio and into Veterans Affairs in a small mid-January shuffle prompted by Scott Brison's retirement from politics. Her exit precipitated another small shuffle on Mar. 1, but then Philpott resigned a few days later, saying she no longer had confidence in the government's handling of the SNC-Lavalin file.
Had Trudeau named Murray to Brison's vacated spot at Treasury Board back in January, it's likely the entire controversy over the Montreal engineering giant would have been avoided.
Murray, who finished a distant second behind Trudeau in the Liberal party's 2013 leadership race, said it's time to move on from the controversy and focus on the government's efforts to reduce poverty, tackle climate change and create jobs.
"The past few weeks have been difficult, and I have expressed my confidence in our prime minister and our support for the work we are doing on behalf of Canadians," she said following a swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall.
"We all want to work together to further that agenda over the coming months until the October election."
Murray said she looks forward to having Philpott and Wilson-Raybould continue in the Liberal caucus under Trudeau's leadership, if that's their choice. But she said she doesn't need to hear any more from Wilson-Raybould on the SNC-Lavalin issue.
The prime minister has been clear there was "a failure of communication," said Murray. "He will be leading our team in looking at how we can do better."
Wilson-Raybould, who testified at the House of Commons justice committee for nearly four hours, has indicated she has more to say, particularly about the period after she was moved to Veterans Affairs, which was not covered by a waiver of solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality. However, the Liberals are so far using their majority to try to shut the matter down, blocking opposition parties' efforts to recall Wilson-Raybould at committee.
Murray, 64, was first elected in 2008 in Vancouver Quadra. She had served previously as a minister in British Columbia's provincial government. Her appointment to cabinet is a promotion from her role as parliamentary secretary to the president of the Treasury Board. It also allows Trudeau to maintain gender balance around the cabinet table.
Treasury Board is a less visible ministry concerned with the nuts and bolts of government operations, but it has the potential for scandal if it falters in its stewardship of federal spending.
Last month, Murray and her family dealt with a personal ordeal when her son had to be medically evacuated from Mexico to Vancouver after suffering severe injuries during his honeymoon in Cancun. Erik Brinkman fell from a height and underwent extensive surgery in Mexico to stabilize multiple fractures.
Murray said Monday her son is continuing his recovery in Vancouver General Hospital: "He's healing well; he's in great spirits."
She has two sons and a daughter with her husband, Dirk Brinkman. They founded the tree-planting company Brinkman Group in 1979.
Joan Bryden and Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press