OTTAWA—He is a former astronaut and naval officer with high schools named after him, a front-line government minister who was just re-elected by the people of Notre-Dame-de-Grace—Westmount.
And now he’s out of a cabinet job.
On Tuesday morning, as a parade of Liberal MPs strode through the pounding rain to get sworn in as cabinet ministers at Rideau Hall, Marc Garneau was nowhere to be found.
After just nine months on the job, Garneau was replaced as Canada’s foreign affairs minister by Mélanie Joly, a fellow Montreal MP who took over the role in a major political promotion.
Garneau, 72, is one of three ministers who were re-elected in last month’s federal election but not named by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the new cabinet that will lead his government in its third mandate in Parliament since the Liberals came to power in 2015. The others — Waterloo MP Bardish Chagger and Manitoba’s Jim Carr — held relatively junior portfolios.
But Garneau was Canada’s minister of Global Affairs, a front-bench role at the heart of cabinet from which he directed the country’s foreign policy and relations with other countries.
Trudeau dodged the question when he was asked Tuesday why he’d excluded Garneau from his new cabinet, instead thanking Garneau and saying he is happy that Garneau is still a Liberal MP. But he added that he is glad to showcase new cabinet members who can tackle the challenges Canada faces.
“It’s never easy to assemble the right cabinet for the moment, but I find the team that is around me today is the right one for the situation and for the years to come,” Trudeau said in French.
In a written statement to the Star, Garneau said it was “an honour and a privilege to serve my country” as a cabinet minister since 2015, and thanked his Liberal colleagues, staff and public servants who worked with him, family and the constituents in his Montreal riding.
One senior government official, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified, said Trudeau’s decision to remove Garneau must have been “tough” because he did an “unbelievable job” as foreign minister. Garneau was credited with helping secure the release of the two Canadians imprisoned in China after the arrest in Vancouver of Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou, and quarterbacked an international declaration against arbitrary detentions that was signed by more than 60 countries.
He also had a “smooth” relationship with the Prime Minister’s Office, the official said.
“I don’t see it as a knock on his performance or anything,” the official said. “I know he was great at his job.”
Before he entered politics, Garneau had a distinguished and high-profile career that saw him become the first Canadian in space when he was selected to join a crew of the U.S. space shuttle in 1984. He later became an astronaut training specialist for NASA and went back to space in 1996 and 2000.
Garneau was first elected as a Liberal MP in 2008, when the party was in opposition. He ran against Trudeau for the Liberal leadership but dropped out of the race a month before it ended in the spring of 2013, calling it a “fait accompli” that his main rival would win.
When Trudeau became prime minister two years later, he named Garneau to his first cabinet as transport minister, a role he remained in until January 2021, when he was shuffled to foreign affairs.
Colin Robertson, a former career diplomat and vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said it makes sense to replace Garneau with Joly, who he described as a “new face” who can take a fresh crack at fulfilling Trudeau’s vision for Canada to play a larger role on the world stage.
Robertson also noted that Garneau is from a different generation than Trudeau, while Joly might have skills that mesh more with the direction the prime minister wants to take on major international issues.
“I think Trudeau wanted somebody who’s more reflective of how he sees Canada in the world,” Robertson said. “The prime minister has to be comfortable with his ministers.”
Yet Joly becomes Trudeau’s fifth foreign minister in just six years, which is “an issue” for a cabinet position that benefits from continuity and deep knowledge of complex global issues, said Roland Paris, a former foreign policy adviser to Trudeau and professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa.
“Canada faces very significant and complicated challenges,” Paris said, “and the leadership of that department needs to have a firm hand on the tiller. And it is a complex set of issues that takes a while to absorb.”
Both Paris and Robertson noted that Joly will quickly face key challenges in the job, including navigating a dispute with the U.S. state of Michigan over the threatened closure of Line 5, a vital oil pipeline that supplies central Canada, as well as crafting a new strategy to deal with China and other countries in the Pacific region.