Trudeau’s new cabinet lacks regional representation

The imagery surrounding the unveiling of Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet last week was appropriate in many ways and contrasted starkly with the swearing-in of the prime minister’s first ministry six years ago.

On that sunny November morning in 2015, Trudeau’s recruiting cabinet strolled the gardens of Rideau Hall as a team, smiling and waving to the large crowd that had gathered outside the official residence of the Governor General. The imagery was unmistakable as the new prime minister literally basked in the sun this fall morning while promising “sunny lanes” – an inspiring and collaborative approach by the government after a decade of Stephen Harper’s iron rule.

Equally inspiring was the line of newbie ministers: the Minister of Finance was a successful CEO, the Minister of Health a distinguished physician, the Minister of Justice an Indigenous lawyer, the Minister of Defense a decorated soldier, and the Minister of Transport. a famous astronaut.

All but one have since left Trudeau’s cabinet, whether by choice or not. The only one left – Harjit sajjan – is beaten and might never bounce back politically.

Last week there weren’t any “sunny lanes” – literally or figuratively. Ministers arrived at the swearing-in ceremony one by one, crossing the grounds of Rideau Hall alone with their families, umbrellas in tow on a dreary, rainy October morning. With the pandemic not yet over, most donned masks, causing media confusion as to who was who.

The formation of this cabinet was not an exercise in building a new team designed to launch a new government, but rather in limiting damage, plugging holes due to electoral defeats and poor performance, and managing the government. caucus.

Despite the outward appearances, all was not dark inside Rideau Hall. The new cabinet presented 38 ministers, including 19 women, seven visible minorities, one Métis and three LGBTQ + people. It is objectively the most diverse cabinet in Canadian history, and for that the Prime Minister deserves praise.

But what was more amazing was the nature of roles assumed by women in this cabinet – not the fact that Trudeau continues to honor its 2015 commitment to gender parity around the cabinet table.

Women take the lion’s share of the most powerful government departments in Ottawa, including the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Defense, International Trade, Employment and Humanitarian Development. labor force and the Treasury Board.

This is a historic first in this country, where until relatively recently, women ministers generally assumed non-economic portfolios such as Canadian Heritage, Health and International Development, all of which were held by men in this department.

Although this cabinet claims unprecedented diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation, it is not regionally balanced and does not include the distinct voices that would push this prime minister to question certain of its governance assumptions and approaches.

Opinion: As Justin Trudeau plans to rule, he has assembled a cabinet of loyalists who will no doubt help the Prime Minister cement his political legacy in the next term, writes @andrewaperez. #cdnpoli # elxn44

Cabinet representation in Canada tends to be concentrated in seat-rich Ontario and Quebec, but this ministry takes this convention to a whole new level, with 26 of 38 Cabinet members hailing from those two provinces. To add insult to injury, Manitoba and Alberta each received a simple subordinate minister, while Saskatchewan – without Liberal MPs – remains excluded from the executive.

It is true that Manitoba and Alberta elected only six Liberal MPs in total, but there is no reason why two ministers from each province responsible for important portfolios should not be appointed to Trudeau’s cabinet. Indeed, this was the case when the Prime Minister came to power in 2015 and aptly appointed Alberta Ministers Kent Hehr and Amarjeet Sohi, and Manitoba Ministers Jim Carr and MaryAnn Mihychuk to influential roles.

Southwestern Ontario was also overlooked in this cabinet due to the MP for Waterloo The exclusion of Bardish Chagger from the executive. A woman of color, and among Trudeau’s most ardent loyalists, it remains a mystery why Chagger was removed from her post as Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth. As a result, the region which stretches for almost four hours along the 401 from Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge, through London to Windsor will go without cabinet representation.

It is a region of the country that continues to face unique economic challenges, especially in light of the aftermath of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis that disproportionately affected southwestern Ontario, decimating the manufacturing base that fueled its economy. Its effects still persist today, where job creation and income growth lag behind other parts of Ontario.

It is incomprehensible that a region whose population exceeds the entire population of Atlantic Canada should be excluded from the federal cabinet while the The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area claims 14 ministers.

The Trudeau cabinet – for all its impressive heavyweights – also lacks diverse and new voices. While this government should rightly be proud of its progressive record and ambitious political agenda, there is virtually no discernible ideological difference among this generation of ministers.

The few more centrist ministers of the last Trudeau cabinet have all been sacked or demoted: Marc Garneau, Carr, and Seamus O’Regan. As a former Minister of Natural Resources, O’Regan brought energy and enthusiasm to his post where he was widely regarded as a strong supporter of Canada’s oil and gas sector by industry stakeholders. But in last week’s reshuffle, O’Regan was sworn in to the low-profile Labor Department – a clear demotion.

It would be difficult to find in this cabinet a minister who conforms to the the “liberal enterprise” label – a nickname long used to describe business-oriented and fiscally conservative liberals. While Trudeau’s cabinet has always been dominated by center-left “social liberals”, there was a group of ministers in the Prime Minister’s first office who came from the more centrist wing of the party, notably Scott Brison. , Ralph Goodale, Bill Morneau, Carr and Garneau – all of whom now find themselves outside cabinet or government.

But a true diversity of views around the Cabinet table is an integral part of good government and effective policy making. The governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin from 1993 to 2006 included a healthy mix of business and social liberals in their cabinets, ultimately resulting in political decisions reflecting the diverse needs and interests of different regions and sectors of the economy.

In the Chrétien-Martin era, pro-business ministers like Anne McLellan, John manley, and Roy MacLaran did not always win their battles around the Cabinet table with their more left-wing colleagues, but their presence at the highest levels of government led to decision-making that took into consideration different perspectives around the value of the government. financial responsibility, economic competitiveness and the role of business.

There is also a political urgency for different voices to be represented in a liberal cabinet. The party has long been a coalition of diverse interests, including those in the business world. As Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives continue to move to the center of the political spectrum, it behooves the Liberal Party not to lose sight of its more centrist supporting elements across the country.

As Trudeau plans to govern, he has assembled a cabinet of loyalists who will no doubt help the Prime Minister cement his political legacy over the next term – one that could be his last.

Many of the changes made to the Prime Minister’s executive last week can be seen in terms of promoting more women into influential roles, limiting damage to underperforming ministers and from succession to management.

Trudeau has been successful in promoting more women to heavyweight roles, while for the most part succeeding in reassigning weak performers to the cabinet. The main promotions of Anita Anand and Melanie Joly – although they correspond to the political interests of the Prime Minister – suggest that Trudeau may seek to level the playing field with alleged favorite Chrystia Freeland when a leadership contest finally comes to an end. place.

But despite its many undisputed strengths, the new Liberal cabinet does not adequately represent all regions of the country and fails to present various voices in the caucus that would be more likely to challenge Trudeau’s blind spots in government. The Prime Minister may come to regret these unforced errors for too long.

Andrew Perez is a Toronto-based public affairs professional whose work includes government relations. Over the past decade, he has worked in various public and private sector environments, advising senior leaders on communication strategies in their interactions with governments and the media. Perez has volunteered in several political campaigns over the years for the Federal and Ontario Liberal parties and remains politically active.

You can follow him on Twitter @andrewaperez.

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