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Unapologetically Liberal: An overview of Justin Trudeau’s new Cabinet

Justin Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire under an umbrella

Photo Credit: PC Photo/Sean Kilpatrick

Photo Credit: PC Photo/Sean Kilpatrick

By most accounts, Justin Trudeau and his cabinet showed competence and quick action when managing Canada’s response to the pandemic, a sentiment which found much echo in opinion polls, which were flattering to the Liberal Party.

Justin Trudeau sensed a path to a third mandate, and even more importantly, a real shot at returning his government to majority status. However, it appears that one dynamic was not factored by political strategists and pollsters: political apathy.

We all know how it unfolded: Justin Trudeau triggered an election no one really wanted… and largely failed to justify its purpose. For all its efforts, the LPC only managed to earn two additional seats, and is once again leading a minority government.

This new government will be put to the test and trusted to help Justin Trudeau achieve his most pressing goals:

  • Put the pandemic in the rear-view mirror
  • Rebuild the Canadian economy and foster a fairer, more affordable society
  • Achieve meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous communities
  • (Truly) tackle climate change, especially important given the upcoming COP26 Conference in Glasgow
  • Improve relationships between Ottawa and the provinces and territories, notably around healthcare funding

That’s a daunting task, one that needs an experienced team. And experience is arguably the main characteristic of the new and improved Trudeau Cabinet that was unveiled at Rideau Hall earlier today. Once again gender-balanced (a trademark of this LPC government), this team puts seasoned politicians in key portfolios, smartly reassigned officials that were struggling in previous roles, boldly made appointments that will rile up opposition MPs (and some provinces) and finally made way for the next generation of Liberal leaders. Through it all, one constant emerges: this Liberal government will no longer shy away from what its true nature.

Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet at a glance

  • Justin Trudeau: Prime Minister of Canada
  • Chrystia Freeland: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance
  • Dominic LeBlanc: Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities
  • Mélanie Joly: Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • François-Philippe Champagne: Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry
  • Steven Guilbeault: Minister of Environment and Climate Change
  • Jean-Yves Duclos: Minister of Health
  • Marc Miller: Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations
  • Mona Fortier: President of the Treasury Board
  • Jonathan Wilkinson: Minister of Natural Resources
  • David Lametti: Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
  • Diane Lebouthillier: Minister of National Revenue
  • Mary Ng: Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development
  • Marco E. L. Mendicino: Minister of Public Safety
  • Anita Anand: Minister of National Defence
  • Marci Ien: Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth
  • Omar Alghabra: Minister of Transport
  • Marie-Claude Bibeau: Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
  • Joyce Murray: Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
  • Seamus O’Regan Jr.: Minister of Labour
  • Carla Qualtrough: Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion
  • Ginette Petitpas Taylor: Minister of Official Languages and Minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
  • Lawrence MacAuley: Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence
  • Pablo Rodriguez: Minister of Canadian Heritage and Quebec Lieutenant
  • Ahmed Hussen: Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion
  • Sean Fraser: Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
  • Kamal Khera: Minister of Seniors
  • Bill Blair: President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Emergency Preparedness
  • Patty Hajdu: Minister of Indigenous Services and Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario
  • Carolyn Bennett: Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health
  • Gudie Hutchings: Minister of Rural Economic Development
  • Helena Jaczek: Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario
  • Randy Boissonnault: Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance
  • Pascale St-Onge: Minister of Sport and Minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec
  • Filomena Tassi: Minister of Public Services and Procurement
  • Dan Vandal: Minister of Northern Affairs, Minister responsible for Prairies Economic Development Canada and Minister responsible for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency
  • Mark Holland: Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
  • Harjit S. Sajjan: Minister of International Development and Minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada

It all starts with the front bench:

  • The tone was set weeks ago, when Trudeau confirmed that his right hand, Chrystia Freeland, would retain the two portfolios she has steered with success: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. As Canada seeks to emerge out of the pandemic and lay foundations for the future, Freeland’s experience and track record is an insurance policy: her steady leadership, command of files, diplomatic approach and empathy will once again be an undeniable asset.
  • Mélanie Joly, a constant of past administrations, gets a department that matches her ambitions as Foreign Affairs Minister, a promotion earned on the back of a strong performance as co-chair of the party’s electoral campaign. Her mission is colossal: strengthen Canada’s relationship with the U.S. while rebuilding the one it holds with China.
  • François-Philippe Champagne stays on as Innovation Minister, and will carry on his efforts to reenergize industries that have been brought to their knees by COVID-19.
  • For the important health portfolio, Jean-Yves Duclos, one of Trudeau’s most dependable ministers, will be counted upon to work with provinces to devise the next steps in the fight against COVID-19… and find some common ground on issues such as the Canada Health Transfer and long-term care, to name a few. He will be helped by notorious negotiator Dominic LeBlanc, who remains Intergovernmental Minister, but also by the Carolyn Bennett, who will serve as the first Minister for Mental Health and Addiction.
  • On the Indigenous front, Marc Miller (Crown-Indigenous Relations) and Patty Hajdu (Indigenous Services) will team up to advance the most important relationship of the Trudeau government.
  • David Lametti will stay on Minister of Justice and Attorney General.
  • Pablo Rodriguez will continue in his duty as Quebec Lieutenant, while also returning to a department he once held, Heritage Canada.

While Trudeau 2019 Cabinet was constructed to appease lingering tensions in Confederation, his 2021 team sends a signal that Ottawa will unapologetically pursue its agenda:

  • Indeed, Trudeau finally proceeded with the move that will undoubtedly push Western Canada over the edge: the nomination of notorious Quebec environmentalist Steven Guilbeault as Minister of Environment. His influence within Cabinet on all environmental matters was well-known, but never provided publicly. No more tiptoeing: he can finally exert his full leadership on a file that will continue to permeate all others. In the process, he will become an even bigger target of opposition parties.
  • This approach to climate change will also reverberate to how Canada handles natural resources. By enlisting former Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson to preside over the decarbonization of Canada’s oil, gas and mining sectors, Trudeau sends another message: Canada is ready to accelerate its efforts to reach net zero by 2050, and its resolve won’t be swayed.
  • Various MPs were promoted from the backbenches: Randy Boissonnault (the lone Alberta representative), Kamal Khera, Ginette Petitpas Taylor (returning to Cabinet), Helena Jaczek and Pascale St-Onge (the star candidate of the past election will serve as Sports Minister)
  • Meanwhile, two senior ministers were left out of the list: Marc Garneau (who, much like Stephane Dion back in 2017, will likely be phased out of federal politics and moved into a senior diplomatic role) and Jim Carr (who has experienced serous health issues over the past few years). Furthermore, in what is today’s biggest surprise, Harjit S. Sajjan, who has become the face of Canada’s inability to tackle sexual harassment within its military, is still in Cabinet, as Minister of International Development.

Analysis

By all accounts, Trudeau is looking at registering something consequential: a legislative victory that will cement his political legacy. No Prime Minister has ever attempted to earn a fourth mandate after two consecutive minority wins. Chatters around Trudeau’s immediate future are at an all-time high, and, with his time in power perhaps winding down, now comes the time to achieve meaningful victories. All signs point towards three files:

  • Childcare: Justin Trudeau’s initial overture towards provinces and territories was promising. However, they are jurisdictions still left to convince, including Canada’s most populous province: Ontario. Affordable childcare is closely tied to economic growth, gender parity and inclusion.
  • Reconciliation: Canada finally entrenched the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into his legal framework. However, now comes the hardest part: transforming the aspirational goals of the document into an applicable action plan. The Liberals have consistently said for the past six years that no relationship is more important than the one they hold with Indigenous Peoples. They have an opportunity to prove just that.
  • Climate change: After years of being labelled a hypocrite by the NDP, the Bloc Québécois and various segments of progressive voters, Justin Trudeau will be tasked to finally silence critics on his commitment to position Canada as a worldwide leader in this fight.

Of course, there is also an entire economy to rebuild, and Canadian values to be showcased around the globe. And above all else, a general societal anxiety that most Canadians feel, which manifest itself in many ways. This team was assembled to get the job done.

Next steps

Parliament will resume sitting on November 22. That same day the Governor General will deliver the Throne Speech: in the process, it will confirm this new government’s priorities, which will then be segmented into mandate letters for each Cabinet minister.

This minority parliament will once again be controlled by opposition parties. However, the LPC will likely benefit from the informal support of the NDP to pass most of its legislations.

For now, this rather short fall session will serve as a nice primer of things to come. NATIONAL will continue to keep track of dynamics on Parliament Hill.