TORONTO (AP) — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shook up his Cabinet on Tuesday, less than two weeks before Donald Trump's inauguration as U.S. president.
Trudeau named Chrystia Freeland as Canada's new foreign minister amid worries Trump will renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Freeland was trade minister when she oversaw last year's ratification of the Canada-European Union free trade agreement after initial concerns Europe wouldn't approve it. NAFTA is Canada's largest and most important economic pact and Freeland will remain the point person on trade with the U.S.
Trudeau noted that Canada is among a few nations promoting free trade.
"President-elect Trump very much takes a trade and job lens to his engagements in the world in international diplomacy," Trudeau said. "It makes sense for the person who is responsible for foreign relations with the United States to also have the ability and the responsibility to engage with issues such as NAFTA and the broad range of trade issues that we'll be facing with our friends and neighbors south of the border."
Freeland, a former journalist and author of Ukrainian descent, is barred from Russia, something she has called an honor. Russia banned her in 2014 as part of a series of retaliatory sanctions against 13 Canadian officials. She had lived in Russia and has been a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, someone Trump has praised.
"That's a question for Moscow," Freeland said when asked if she will be able to travel to Russia.
Trudeau said: "Her ability to deal with multiple situations around the world was well demonstrated in her tremendous success in her negotiating the Canada-Europe trade agreement. As to how she gets along with Russia, she speaks fluent Russian."
She speaks five languages in all.
Freeland, 48, replaced Stephane Dion, who was dropped from the Cabinet.
Another experienced hand, John McCallum, who oversaw the arrival of more than 39,000 Syrian refugees as immigration minister, is retiring from Parliament to become ambassador to China as Trudeau embarks on a free trade agreement with that Asian country.
McCallum is the former chief economist for Canada's largest bank and his wife is of Chinese origin. He also represents a district near Toronto that is 40 percent Chinese origin.
Ahmed Hussen, a Somali refugee, was named Canada's new immigration minister. Hussen came to Canada as a teenager from war-torn Somalia. A lawyer and community activist, he became the first Somali-Canadian to be elected to Parliament in 2015.
The Cabinet makeover was Trudeau's first since becoming prime minister in late 2015. He made a splash then when he named a Cabinet that was 50 percent women. He now has 15 women ministers and 14 men.
News of the shuffle leaked Monday just as Trudeau's office confirmed that his two top aides, Chief of Staff Katie Telford and Principal Secretary Gerald Butts, have been meeting with some of Trump's senior advisers seeking to build bridges to the incoming administration. Freeland, who was head of the Cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations, has been involved in the meetings.
"We've been laying the groundwork for some personal relationships," Freeland said. "Being able to call each other on the phone and send emails, that is something that is really important for the Canadian government."