Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made major changes to his ministerial contingent Tuesday, elevating three rookie MPs to the cabinet table. François-Philippe Champagne, Ahmed Hussen and Karina Gould to join federal cabinet.
Long-time Liberal MP John McCallum is leaving federal politics for Beijing, where he will become Canada's ambassador to China, and he will cede his immigration post to Ahmed Hussen, the first black Canadian to serve in Trudeau's cabinet. The Somali-born Hussen came to Canada as a refugee at the tender age of 16 after fleeing his war-ravaged native land.
After arriving from Mogadishu, he became a track and field star at his Hamilton high school before moving to Toronto to live with an older brother in the city's Regent Park public housing development. He worked at a gas station in Mississauga, an hour commute from his home, to scrape together enough money for tuition at York University. Along the way, he volunteered with Ontario Liberal Party and was brought into former premier Dalton McGuinty's office after the 2003 election campaign ended Tory rule in the province. It was there that he first crossed paths with the likes of Gerald Butts and Katie Telford, now Trudeau's top lieutenants who also worked at Queen's Park. Hussen, 39, became an advocate for his impoverished community inside the premier's office and helped secure millions in funding to revitalize his dilapidated housing project. Later, he left to become president of the Canadian Somali Congress. His victory in York South–Weston was a source of pride for many of his fellow Somalis — who form a sizable voting block in the north Toronto riding — but Hussen has insisted he does not want to be seen as a token MP.
"I'm Canadian" Hussen told CBC News after his election. "I have a lot to contribute to Canada, and I'm a mainstream guy, I'm not limited by my community. Everyone has a heritage, but we have a shared citizenship." Hussen reiterated Tuesday his reluctance at being branded the "Somali" cabinet minister. "I've done a lot of work outside my community," he said, noting his advocacy for Regent Park represented the concerns of residents from 65 different ethnic backgrounds. "I've always prided myself as a Canadian. I'm also proud of my heritage. But I think the two can work together, and I think Canada is one of the few countries that can actually happen," he said.
Gould's appointment as minister of democratic institutions will lower the average age of cabinet ministers considerably. She is replacing another young privy councilor, Maryam Monsef, who will be shuffled to the status of women portfolio. Gould, 29, is the youngest female cabinet minister in Canadian history. The Burlington, Ont., MP is an Oxford University graduate and a trade and investment specialist who worked for the Mexican Trade Commission before her foray into federal politics. She volunteered at a Mexican orphanage while a student at McGill University, and later worked as a consultant to the migrant and development program at the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C., experience that made her a natural fit for the role of parliamentary secretary to the minister of international development, Marie-Claude Bibeau. Gould has had an interest in federal politics since a young age. She has pinpointed a visit by former Liberal MP for Burlington, Paddy Torsney, to her high school civics class, as an early inspiration to run for elected office. "I was so impressed with her," Gould told the Bay Observer, the local Burlington newspaper, after her election. "It really inspired me to think it was a real possibility for me as a woman to become an MP." Both of her paternal grandparents are Holocaust survivors.
François-Philippe Champagne has been a strong lieutenant of Finance Minister Bill Morneau over the past year, and will now take a seat at the cabinet table as the minister of international trade. Champagne takes over the hot file as support for global trade wanes in much of the Western world amid an ascendency of protectionist rhetoric. Champagne has one notable supporter in his corner: former prime minister Jean Chrétien. Both Champagne and Chrétien hail from Shawinigan, in rural Mauricie area of Quebec, and the Liberal lion encouraged the lawyer turned international businessman to run in the last election. "He worked in Europe, around the world," Chrétien recently said in French in an interview with Quebec paper Le Nouvelliste, which recently named Champagne "person of the year." "He came to see me, he explained to me that one day he would like to practice politics," Chrétien said. "I encouraged him. I gave him my advice. He worked very hard, returned to his home, prepared himself and was elected. He does very well in Ottawa; everyone says it. I am very proud of him. He understands that it is not easy and that you have to work."
Champagne, 46, worked abroad in the field of green technology and as a vice-president and senior counsel at ABB Group, a multinational Swiss conglomerate. He was awarded the Young Global Leader award at 2009 World Economic Forum.
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