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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Don Martin: The good, bad and ugly of the new Trudeau cabinet

OTTAWA —
Keeping in mind that being a Justin Trudeau cabinet minister means you’re a force-fed enabler of the Prime Minister’s agenda more than influencer of policy direction, there are good, bad and ugly moves to be observed in Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony.

The over-arching theme is how this gaggle of ministers is more lapdog than usual, where a long, loyal, sycophantic friendship to the prime minister appears to be THE critical consideration for a ticket to The Show.

How else to explain Melanie Joly being elevated from mid-level cabinet underachiever to become the high-profile face of Canada as foreign affairs minister?

From botching Canada’s 150th birthday – including that infamous $5-million skating rink on Parliament Hill – to her recent invisibility in Tourism, there is precious little sign she’s primed to take on the diplomatic world.

But her friendship with Trudeau and her Liberal party organization skills are allegedly strong, so apparently that’s enough of a qualifier for what is traditionally the third most influential post in cabinet.

Then there’s the hot-potato-drop of Canada’s first astronaut from cabinet, the kicking of Marc Garneau out of prime ministerial orbit for a reward to be named later.

Although Garneau was a mediocre force of personality in Foreign Affairs, he hardly rated becoming the shooting star of this shuffle.

That should’ve been former defence minister Harjit Sajjan, a chronic force of ineptitude who clings to the perks of cabinet with a hard-to-botch gig in International Development that’s mostly handing out humanitarian cheques.

His replacement, Anita Anand, will be well received as a woman in charge of finally cleaning up the epidemic of sexual misconduct allegations rifling the ranks of military leadership.

While her claim to political fame in Procurement was basically buying every COVID-19 vaccine on the world market with price being no obstacle, things will get a lot more complicated as she sets out to exorcise the cultural demons in national defence ranks. She needs to succeed.

And then there’s Trudeau flipping the bird at Alberta’s energy industry.

He shuffled energy sympathizer Seamus O’Regan aside from Natural Resources (demoted to Labour) and replaced him with former environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who probably wouldn’t know a pumpjack from a tire iron.

That sure sign of rough oilpatch waters ahead went whitecap when Trudeau elevated former Greenpeace anti-oil activist Stephen Guilbeault to the portfolio of his dreams in Environment. Cue the outrage from Alberta premier Jason Kenney.

That one-two punch of bad oilpatch news landed in a cabinet lineup where Newfoundland, with barely half the population of Calgary, got two ministers while Alberta was given one low-level minister in Tourism.

Now that’s an equalization problem to get miffed about but, of course, it would help if Alberta elected more than two MPs in the governing party.

Suffice to say there are empty drawers in this curious cabinet, veterans and rookies appointed for geography, gender or ethnic reasons over merit, but I will spare analysis of that list because, in most cases, it would be the last time you ever heard of those ministers.

So the 2021 post-election poodle patch sets out to tackle a probable two-year minority government lifespan with a very clear mandate – deliver a legacy for Justin Trudeau before he bows out.

That suggests few difficult or controversial policies ahead beyond an enhanced emphasis on fighting climate change, taking Indigenous reconciliation to the next level and making progress on easing the housing supply crisis with a dedicated minister to the task.

(As an aside, gender parity should’ve been abandoned in this cabinet. Many of the rookie MPs are very impressive women, suggesting men could’ve and arguably should’ve been pushed into the minority to produce an even stronger group.)

But with early signs of Trudeau checking out, starting with that inexplicable Tofino surfing debacle, the most powerful ministerial promotion in this cabinet was never explicably named.

That would be Chrystia Freeland: Minister of post-Trudeau Transition.

That’s the bottom line.

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