Canada's PM to shuffle Cabinet, set to drop foreign minister

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will shuffle his Cabinet this week and is set to move Foreign Minister Stephane Dion, who ran into political trouble last year, a person with knowledge of the matter said on Monday.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

“Dion is out,” said the person, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

The Canadian Press, which initially broke the story, said the move was scheduled for Tuesday and would involve at least six people.

The shuffle would be the first time Trudeau has made major changes since his Liberals took power in November 2015, allowing him to recast his Cabinet ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration as U.S. President.

Relations with the United States will be crucial over the next four years and Trudeau may have decided he needs a better communicator than Dion, a French-speaker and former professor who sometimes stumbles when speaking English.

Trump’s vow during the campaign to either tear up or renegotiate NAFTA could have calamitous consequences for Canada, which sends 75 percent of its exports to the United States.

One leading candidate to replace Dion would be Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, an author and former reporter who worked for several years in the United States and has good connections in Washington.

Such an appointment would be complicated as Trudeau wants to improve ties with Russia, which banned Freeland - who is of Ukrainian descent - in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Freeland, who is sometimes pictured in Ukrainian national dress, has been harshly critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trudeau and Dion’s offices declined to comment. Freeland’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Dion, 61, a former Liberal leader who held ministerial posts in previous governments from 1996 to 2006, was widely criticized last June for not defending a reporter when China’s foreign minister berated her at a news conference.

He also came under fire for the government’s handling of a controversial arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

Additional reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Peter Cooney and Sandra Maler