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Ah, it’s good to be back. After what feels like an eternity, there’s finally some news to write about in the world of Canadian politics (I know, try to contain your excitement).
The announcement of a new cabinet is one of those things that I feel is really inside baseball for us politics nerds. Most people can’t name a single member of cabinet, aside from the prime minister, and I can’t necessarily blame them for that.
Especially in recent years, cabinet members have become less and less powerful, and while they were never overly relevant to begin with, now they aren’t much more than a scapegoat for the prime minister. The only time you really hear about cabinet ministers in the news is when they are taking the fall for the PMO when they mess something up (which this current PMO does quite a lot).
Regardless, the announcement of a new cabinet still gets us political junkies excited, and while the individual people who make up the cabinet may not be all that consequential, there are still some political messages that can be unpacked from major portfolio shuffles, the addition of fresh faces and the ousting of those who may be long in the tooth. So without further ado, let’s get into the nitpicking.
Speaking of those who were ousted, let’s quickly talk about the folks who aren’t in Trudeau’s new cabinet. First, there’s those ministers who weren’t re-elected. Catherine McKenna, formerly the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities and the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change before that, decided to retire from politics. She had been the target of vicious, misogynistic attacks during her time in cabinet, so I would imagine that poor treatment, plus her demotion to infrastructure and communities, helped her in making that decision.
A few others lost their re-election bids in 2021, including Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Maryam Monsef, Minister of Rural Economic Development, and Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte. Jordan was facing a lot of pressure in her riding over the Indigenous lobster fishing dispute that broke out this time last year, which likely played a role in her defeat. Schulte’s former riding of King-Vaughn is simply a swing riding that flip-flops between Conservative and Liberal every few elections. And then there’s Monsef, who, in one of my favourite stories to come out of the House of Commons: Zoom Edition, was caught on a hot mic talking about her exorbitant salary as an MP and cabinet minister. While it’s unlikely this played into her election loss, as her riding in Peterborough also swings quite regularly, I’d like to think it did, at least a little bit.
Regardless, the loss of these four female cabinet ministers left Trudeau and his PMO with a big hole to fill to maintain gender parity, something Trudeau has remained committed to throughout his time as Prime Minister.
In the end, he did indeed deliver. Not counting himself, there are 19 men and 19 women in the cabinet. There are members representing nearly every province in Canada, save for Saskatchewan, where no Liberals were elected, as well as the Yukon and Northwest Territories. While the cabinet is certainly Ontario and Quebec-heavy, that’s not exactly a shock, nor is it uncommon, as that’s where the vast majority of MPs are from.
To say that a 38-person cabinet is bloated is certainly an understatement, and there are definitely positions that could be eliminated (I’m looking at you, seven ministers with “economic development” in your title). But the expansion of the cabinet to include ministers of Mental Health and Housing, both for the first time, shows a level of political commitment to these issues from the federal government that has never been seen before. Hopefully that will translate into policy action.
There were also a few other names who, despite being re-elected, were not welcomed back to cabinet. The first of those is Bardish Chagger. Chagger was seen as a rising star and major minister to watch after joining Trudeau’s cabinet in 2015 as Minister of Small Business and Tourism. Then, less than a year later, she was promoted to be the Leader of the Government in the House on top of maintaining her role as Small Business and Tourism minister. That wouldn’t last though, as by 2018 she lost her cabinet position, and after the 2019 election she was heavily demoted from Government House Leader to Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth. There are certain cabinet positions, like Diversity, Inclusion and Youth, where either new faces are brought in to get their feet wet, or, as in Chagger’s case, where political aspirations go to die. Let’s just say it’s not a surprise that Chagger didn’t make it back.
Two surprising ones for me though were Marc Garneau and Jim Carr. Garneau, a famous Canadian astronaut, was appointed to Trudeau’s first cabinet, and was one of few ministers to maintain his ministry throughout multiple cabinet shuffles and elections. He was seemingly promoted from Transport to Foreign Affairs at the beginning of 2021, and with the successful release of the two Michaels from China just last month, I am surprised to have seen Garneau get the boot. Carr is a bit of a different case, as he has been in and out of cabinet, holding multiple positions, in part due to his struggle with cancer. I could certainly see his health as having played a role in this decision, as he may have not been up for the job of being in cabinet, but that’s just speculation.
Now onto those who are actually in the cabinet. First is Chrystia Freeland, who has unsurprisingly stayed on as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. If there’s one cabinet position that matters, it’s Finance. Likewise, if only one member of Trudeau’s cabinet has any political power of their own, it’s Freeland. Many have floated, and continue to float her as Trudeau’s successor, and with speculation swirling that he may not face another election as leader, this may simply be them preparing for a smooth transition to hopefully hold onto power after Trudeau makes his exit. However, I would caution her to not fly too close to the sun, as her proximity to Trudeau could spell electoral trouble for Freeland’s Liberal Party down the road.
Anita Anand has been given the tough job of Minister of National Defence (take that National Post, I remembered to include her name) after Harjit Sajjan (or the PMO) massively dropped the ball in the handling of widespread sexual harassment and assault allegations coming out of the military. Anand proved herself in Public Services and Procurement, a normally uneventful ministry that saw greatly increased focus and responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, as she and her ministry were responsible for securing our vaccine supply. While not the longstanding cabinet figure that Freeland is, Anand has certainly built up some political capital for herself. National Defence will be her ultimate test though. Hopefully she makes it out in one piece.
Jean-Yves Duclos is one person who’s slowly been climbing the cabinet ranks over the years. Having started in Families, Children and Social Development in 2015, he went on to become the President of the Treasury Board following the 2019 election and now has made a lateral move to Health. Despite being an unknown figure on the public stage, he’s someone else who might make a go at party leadership when the time comes.
Mona Fortier has seen a massive promotion from the embarrassing fake ministerial position of Middle Class Prosperity to President of the Treasury Board. I’m curious to see if she can deliver as the head of an actual ministry.
Steven Guilbeault has finally been moved to Environment and Climate Change, where he belonged all along. I doubt he’ll be a very agreeable figure in this role, so let’s see how long Trudeau lets him stay. Hopefully during his tenure he’ll push for some greater climate action from this government that’s seemingly all talk on this important issue.
Patty Hajdu has received a tough promotion similar to Anand; from Health to Indigenous Services. While she’s followed a positive trajectory since being sworn in as a cabinet minister following the 2015 election, she has had her share of missteps along the way. Only time will tell if she cracks under the pressure of such a difficult position.
Melanie Joly embodies the phrase failing upwards. At every cabinet position she’s held, she’s been in the media because of some controversy. Be it her ridiculous spending decisions while at Canadian Heritage, or her blaming another cabinet minister after receiving tough questions on the decision to tax Netflix (a major cabinet faux pas), or one of the many more examples, she hasn’t failed to…well, fail.
However, after laying low for the last little while, Joly was made a major campaign figure for the Liberals’ 2021 re-election, and now, she’s been promoted to Foreign Affairs, one of the most consequential ministries in the government. It likely is because of her close personal relationship with the Prime Minister, but regardless, her political career trajectory continues to shock me.
The rest of the cabinet is generally uninteresting. A handful have stayed put where they were prior to the election, new faces have been given understandably low importance positions (I’m looking at you, Minister of Sport) and most of the other moves seem to be lateral. Of course, it won’t be until the government is back to work that we see how any of these folks pan out, but there are at the very least some interesting careers to keep tabs on.