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Canada PM shuffles top Cabinet players ahead of possible election

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a news conference at the Dominion Arboretum in Ottawa

By Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named a new foreign minister on Tuesday and shuffled other top players in his Cabinet ahead of an election that insiders in his Liberal Party say is likely this year.

Trudeau's hand was forced when Innovations Minister Navdeep Bains, 43, unexpectedly announced he was resigning from politics for family reasons. Bains, who has two school-age daughters and had been in the job since November 2015, was a senior minister in the populous province of Ontario, a Liberal stronghold.

Canadian prime ministers traditionally shuffle their team if a Cabinet member says they will not run in the next election.

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Francois-Philippe Champagne, 50, will leave the foreign ministry to take over for Bains. Marc Garneau, 71, moved from transport to become Canada's fourth foreign minister in just over four years.

Garneau's main tasks will be establishing relations with the new U.S. administration and handling a major diplomatic dispute with China.

One of Champagne's first jobs will be to decide whether to allow China's Huawei Technologies Co Ltd to supply next-generation equipment for 5G networks. Liberal sources say Ottawa will ban Huawei gear but is keeping silent so as not to anger Beijing.

Bains was first elected in 2004, lost his seat in 2011, and returned to parliament four years when Trudeau took power.

"It's time for me to put my family first, and I couldn't be happier about it," Bains said in a video posted on Twitter.

Trudeau, who retained power in an October 2019 election but only has a minority of seats in the House of Commons, relies on other parties to govern.

He said last week there could well be an election this year but stressed he wanted to stay in office to focus on the coronavirus epidemic.

Backbench legislator Omar Alghabra will replace Garneau at transport and Jim Carr rejoined the Cabinet as a special representative for the Prairies, where the Liberals failed to win seats in the last election.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Jonathan Oatis)