Trudeau’s not-so-new cabinet kowtows to big business

This past week newly re-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled his new cabinet at Rideau Hall, in a far less flashy ceremony than had been held four years earlier for the announcement of his first cabinet.

While most of the faces are familiar, there has been a great deal of internal shuffling that seems to suggest some of the government’s priorities going into this seemingly stable minority government.

The first and most notable change was to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who has been promoted to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. She’s the first Deputy Prime Minister since 2006 and perhaps the first with any major role to play. On top of being in charge of federal-provincial relations, she will also stay as the lead on Canada-US relations, easily the single most important priority of foreign affairs.

It’s clear that Freeland is being recognized for a job well done in Foreign Affairs. While perhaps she wasn’t anything extraordinary in the role, she remained one of the only members of Trudeau’s cabinet to avoid any substantive public scrutiny during the first term, an impressive feat to say the least. Given Trudeau’s desire to keep his role more “ceremonial” (his words not mine), it’s likely that Freeland, along with his aimless PMO, will play a major role in setting and maintaining the government’s agenda during this government, however long that may end up being.

There were a number of new faces brought up into cabinet, though I doubt any of them will play much of a role. A major theme of this cabinet seems to be making up roles out of thin air with no ministry to actually fall back on to get anything done (I’m looking at you Ministry of Middle Class Prosperity) and largely the new hires seem to fall into that category. Vandal in Northern Affairs, Schulte in Seniors, Fortier in Middle Class Prosperity, none of these are worth much more than the plaque they will be printed on (and the massive salary bumps that accompany them).

Ironically, despite all the bloat in this new cabinet (36 ministers for 18 ministries to be exact), there’s very little regional representation to show for it. While Trudeau maintained gender parity amongst the 36 ministers, there is not a single one representing the territories, none from Saskatchewan and Alberta (though that’s outside of their control to be fair), four from British Columbia, one from Manitoba and one from each of the Atlantic provinces, leaving the remaining 27 to come from only Ontario and Quebec. Each of the seven new faces comes from Ontario and Quebec as well, save for Dan Vandal replacing Jim Carr as the sole member from Manitoba. It’s clear to me, based on this far more Quebec-Ontario centric cabinet, that Trudeau knows where his next hypothetical majority has to come from next election.

Speaking of Carr, his demotion from cabinet to become Trudeau’s senior advisor on the Prairies seems like a major cop out if you ask me. Not only is his demotion from cabinet due to his battle with cancer seemingly a slap in the face (given that fellow cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc, who is also currently battling cancer, remains in cabinet and was actually promoted to be the President of the Queen’s Privy Council), but Carr doesn’t actually represent the provinces that the Liberal’s were shut out of. Why didn’t he call on Rona Ambrose or one of the many Liberal (or formerly Liberal) Senators from the west, newly elected NDP MP Heather McPherson from Edmonton or anyone actually from the provinces you are looking to represent?

There are few other internal promotions to speak of within cabinet; Bill Blair from the Ministry of ICE to Public Safety, though that may just be because he looks so much like Ralph Goodale, save for the height difference. Francois-Philippe Champagne to Foreign Affairs may seem like a promotion, but given the minority situation (and Freeland maintaining control over Canada-US relations) it’s likely Champagne won’t have much to do in this role.

O’Regan to Natural Resources should be a promising sign for the pro-pipeline crowd, given that he hails from oil-heavy Newfoundland, same goes for the relegation of Quebec climate activist Steven Guilbeault to Minister of Heritage, a slap in the face to those of us who were hoping Trudeau may have learned his lesson on climate after the rocky election results (clearly he didn’t).

Same goes for the movement of Jonathan Wilkinson to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change; a ‘business-friendly’ tech CEO from British Columbia who, you guessed it, supports the construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. Wilkinson’s and O’Regan’s appointments, as well as Guilbeault’s snubbing was so business and pipeline friendly that it even earned Trudeau praise from both Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, so make of that what you will.

That leads me to another major theme of this new cabinet, big business. With a third of the cabinet dedicated to “innovation”, “industry”, or some kind of “economic development”, it’s clear where Trudeau’s priorities are at going into this new Parliament: pivoting to the right.

While some immediate announcements following the swearing-in ceremony have left me somewhat optimistic, like newly appointed Minister of Health Patty Hajdu’s open public support for pharmacare and our recent UN vote to stand up against the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine, I’m not overly optimistic.

The overall increased focus on “the economy” and building the Trans Mountain Pipeline tells me that those who are really struggling, namely the working class, students and the planet are going to take a back seat for the next couple of years, as they have for most of Canada’s history. What we’re likely to see is more corporate handouts, more kowtowing to the right and even less action to help those who need it most.

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