Historic cabinet features gender parity and “the face of Canada”

Photo courtesy of Facebook

OTTAWA— Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was sworn into office last Wednesday, November 4 along with a cabinet that made a number of historical firsts. The most prominent of those changes was the cabinet’s gender parity, but the cabinet ministers who swore their oaths before the Governor General also featured among their ranks a number of other firsts, including the first aboriginal Minister of Justice and the first Inuit Fisheries and Oceans Minister (who wore a sealskin to the oath taking ceremony at Rideau Hall), as well as the first Muslim minister.

Prime Minister Trudeau was joined by his ministerial designates as they walked to the oath taking ceremony to be sworn in. The public was invited (for the triumphant entry at least) in a pointed contrast to the ceremonies held under the Conservative regime of Stephen Harper which were low key affairs. Mr. Trudeau announced to the 3,500 Canadians who took up the offer that it was an “incredible pleasure to present a cabinet that looks like Canada.”

The prime minister’s swift rejoinder when asked by a reporter why gender parity around the cabinet table was important, “because it is 2015,” quickly went viral around the globe.

Prime Minister Trudeau sought to further differentiate his style from that of his predecessor by asserting that “government by cabinet is back.” Mr. Harper was noted for his micro management style and insistence on control and communication on most issues be by way of the PMO office. Prime Minister Trudeau, whose father is credited with beginning the modern trend of the concentration of power within the PMO, has repeatedly vowed to reverse that tide and to allow his ministers to actively manage their portfolios.

The prime minister will sit at the head of the cabinet table, but will also sit as the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Youth. The long-serving Ralph Goodale (Saskatchewan) will head up Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Lawrence MacAulay (P.E.I.) will sit as Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Stéphane Dion (Quebec) will head Foreign Affairs, John McCallum (Ontario) will be the new Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Carolyn Bennett (Ontario), a familiar face on Manitoulin Island, will be minister of the newly renamed Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Scott Brison (Nova Scotia) will be the new Treasury Board President, Dominic Leblanc (New Brunswick) is Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and although there is no deputy prime minister named in this parliament, he is widely touted in the media as de facto in that role. Navdeep Bains (Ontario) will be Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Bill Morneau (Ontario) is the new Minister of Finance, Jody Wilson-Raybould (B.C.), a former Assembly of First Nations regional chief, is the new Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Judy Foote (Newfoundland and Labrador) is the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, Chrystia Freeland (Ontario) will head up International Trade, Jane Philpott (Ontario) is the new Minister of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos (Quebec) is the new Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Marc Garneau (Quebec) will head up Transport, Marie-Claude Bibeau (Quebec) will head up International Development and La francophonie, Jim Carr (Manitoba) will head up Natural Resources, Mélanie Joly (Quebec) will head up Heritage, Diane Lebouthillier (Quebec) will head up National Revenue, Kent Hehr (Alberta) will head up Veterans Affairs and act as Associate Minister of National Defence,

Catherine McKenna (Ontario) will head up Environment and Climate Change, veteran Harjit Sajjan (B.C.) will head up National Defence, MaryAnn Mihychuk (Manitoba) will head up Employment Workforce Development and Labour, Amarjeet Sohi (Alberta) will head up Infrastructure and Communities, Maryam Monsef (Ontario) will head up Democratic Institutions, Carla Qualtrough (B.C.) will head up Sport, and Persons with Disabilities, Hunter Tootoo (Nunavut) will head up Fisheries and Oceans, and Canadian Coast Guard, Kirsty Duncan (Ontario) will head up Science, Patricia Hajdu (Ontario) will head up Status of Women and Bardish Chagger (Ontario) will head up Small Business and Tourism.

Michael Caesar, who works in the Governor General’s office, was at Rideau Hall as the swearing in took place. “Well I didn’t really get to witness it because I was helping out behind the scenes, in the media filing room (which is in the basement of Rideau Hall),” he said when contacted by The Expositor. “They had a couple of TV screens set up in the room, however, so we were able to watch the raw video feed. As you probably know there were thousands of people on the grounds that day and a lot of media present. Many of them were veteran political reporters and I think it’s safe to say few if any had ever seen a swearing-in ceremony like this one. I was on the margins of it all but it was interesting.”

Toronto and Ontario were the big winners this week when it came to the cabinet with 11 of the 31 ministers from Ontario, compared with seven from Quebec. More importantly, most of the Ontario contingent occupy senior positions. Among the most high profile of those positions will be including Toronto Centre rookie MP Morneau, who is a successful and wealthy Bay Street businessman, and the new Finance Minister, arguably the most important job after prime minister.

The task of assigning cabinet ministers inevitably leads to disappointment, with high profile Liberals such as Adam Vaughan, an effective advocate for housing policy and cities and former Toronto police chief Bill Blair being absent from the list.

There are a number of key changes to the names of cabinet posts as well. Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s name changes to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada,

Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada will change to Global Affairs Canada, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada changes to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Industry Canada will change to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, Public Works and Government Services Canada will now be known as Public Services and Procurement Canada and Environment Canada will be renamed to Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Responsibilities will also change as responsibility for Canada Post, currently vested with the transport minister slated to Public Services Minister Judy Foote.

Public Service Minister Judy Foote is also the new minister for the Public Service Commission, which was previously the purview of the heritage minister. The PSC is in charge of recruiting for the federal public service. Treasury Board President Scott Brison will share responsibility for the federal public service with Minister Foote as a tense series of collective bargaining negotiations continue to unfold. Media reports indicate that Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk will also play a role in those negotiations.

The new public services minister will also take on responsibility for the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board and the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal Canada.

Minister Foote and Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc are also joining the Board of Internal Economy, possibly the most important of government committees.

Of great interest to the North, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains is now responsible for all six regional economic development agencies including FedNor, as well as Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, Western Economic Diversification Canada, Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario.

Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly will be responsible for Multiculturalism (which had its own minister in Stephen Harper’s cabinet), Canadian Race Relations, National Capital Commission and Canadian Secretary to the Queen.

Critics have already taken aim at the optics of the new cabinet, however, noting that five of the new female appointees are actually not cabinet ministers, but actually ministers of state, taking home $20,000 less in their pay packets (unless legislative changes are made in that regard), cannot sign orders in council and generally must answer to a more senior minister.

Still, the gender parity of the cabinet places Canada in rarified company and while only 26 percent of the MPs elected to office in the general election of 2015, one percent more than in 2011, the move to gender parity is generally being received as auspicious.