In the life of any Parliament there are a few big days that happen that are as much as symbolic in their importance as anything else. Usually those are lumped at the beginning and are a part of the pomp and circumstance of the moment. They are important because they talk about the direction of a government but they are also a part of the tradition of our democracy. Yesterday we saw the first big one for the 43rd Parliament, which rolled out over at Rideau Hall with a nation watching:
Justin Trudeau unveiled his new cabinet in this minority Parliament and it had everyone watching the walkways around Rideau Hall to see who would show up to be sworn in. As the afternoon went along, we saw more and more people who we expected to be there, joined by a few that were a surprise. On the whole, it strikes me as a solid cabinet with a fair bit to like about it. But like with any such event, there were things that jumped out, and yesterday was no exception to that:
- It didn’t go unnoticed that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti was sworn in to a brand new oath, one that was extremely specific in its language about respecting the independence of our judicial system. It was a not-so-subtle nod to what happened in the SNC/PMO Scandal, but also drew attention to the fact that Mr. Lametti still holds both roles. In a process where the Prime Minister was making a larger cabinet anyway, one would think it would have been a natural thing to split these roles up, yet that didn’t happen. It raises the obvious question of “why not?”
- There were a few appointments that struck me as potentially “last chance” appointments; Mélanie Joly, Maryam Monsef and Seamus O’Regan. All three had very rough goes in their first couple of ministerial appointments and if any of them had been dropped from cabinet, it would have been understood. But they are still there and one would have to think with many capable and eager Liberal backbenchers sitting in the wings, this is probably their third and final opportunity to get this right.
- I find the appointment of O’Regan to Natural Resources to be an intriguing one, one that I think the Conservatives are overplaying their anger over at the start. The three provinces in this country that have a huge vested interest in the oil and gas sector are Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland & Labrador. As the cabinet minister from the Rock, you can be sure that O’Regan not only gets the importance of this industry, he should be the most motivated in this group to make it work. I see this appointment as “high risk/high reward”; having had big failures in two other Ministries, it can be argued that he’s failed upwards to this point. So if he fails again in this file, the consequences could be huge. But if he succeeds, it’s a huge success. The fact is that there is no potential Liberal minister who would make the Conservatives, Jason Kenney or Scott Moe happy in this role, but having a high profile minister from a major oil producing province in that role is probably the best shot they have.
- In my mind one of the more intriguing appointments yesterday was Mona Fortier; yes the title of “Minister of Middle Class Prosperity” has gotten a lot of derision, and rightfully so. But that’s not my focus in her appointment; it’s the Associate Minister of Finance. One of the open questions about this cabinet was “what would come in this cabinet was what would come of Bill Morneau?” In a minority Parliament, having a good communicator in senior portfolios like Finance is extremely important and while Morneau may be solid on running the department, he’s never been mistaken for being the great communicator. Enter Mona Fortier, who does fit that bill. She was the co-chair of the Liberals platform team in this campaign with Ralph Goodale and she is a strong communicator who is fluently bilingual and knowledgeable on her files. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Fortier being more of the face of this ministry going forward.
- The reactions to the appointments of Steven Guilbeault and Johnathan Wilkinson has really interested me. It was no shock to me that Guilbeault wasn’t put in Environment, but mostly because I expected Wilkinson to end up there. He was Parliamentary Secretary to Catherine McKenna for most of the last Parliament and has a strong background in green tech companies prior to his election. On top of that, in my personal experience he’s a very collegial minister who is willing to work across the aisle to get things done. In the last Parliament, one of my prouder achievements working for MP Richard Cannings was working with Mr. Wilkinson to get a loophole in Canada’s Species at Risk Act closed, one that the Harper Conservatives abused through their years in office. Working together we found a way to make that change happen and it happened in an extremely collegial way, and that was in a majority government. Those skills will be important in a minority.
- That being said, I was taken aback by the reaction from the environmental community to Mr. Guilbeault’s appointment. He was only one of two rookie MPs to get appointed to this cabinet, and there was no way he was going to Environment, a senior portfolio in this government. So to see the reactions of the NGO community calling it “appeasing the west”, that it is some kind of slight to the environmental movement, and that Trudeau hadn’t appointed a “true environmentalist” to the post blew my mind. That is a complete overreaction and it is one that is only making those NGO’s look worse and unreasonable, playing completely into the hands of those who want them to look that way. And let’s face facts; Heritage is a big portfolio in Quebec. It’s not like they stashed the man in the far back of the House with the pages. Those reacting that way thought they might be putting pressure on Mr. Trudeau but honestly I can’t help but think their reaction did the opposite.
As we go ahead we’ll see more information come out that will gives us more to be able to judge this cabinet against. Soon we’ll find out who the Conservative and NDP critics are, seeing the match ups we’ll see in the House of Commons on a regular basis. We’ll also find out who the Parliamentary Secretaries will be, the ones who will do a lot of the heavy lifting and will have a big impact on these portfolios and their committees in this Parliament. But now a key piece of the 43rd Parliament is in place and we’re starting to get a better picture of what life in this minority Parliament might be like.