Trudeau’s cabinet signals change in Ottawa

Trudeau’s cabinet signals change in Ottawa

The signs that this would be a different cabinet came early. First there was the promise of gender parity in his selection of cabinet ministers, something that new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stuck to when he announced his selections Wednesday morning in Ottawa: of the 30 members of his inaugural cabinet, 15 are women.

There were also indications, both from Trudeau and from others in the know, that a prime minister elected in no small part on the promise of change would bring that to the cabinet by selecting ministers who reflected the country’s increasing diversity. This is certainly the best opportunity for that kind of representation that an incoming prime minister has ever had — the newly elected Liberal caucus is the most diverse on record, including eight of the 10 indigenous MPs who were elected last month.

And indeed, this cabinet looks more like the reality of Canada than any other has. Along with half of its members being female, there are three indigenous MPs, several visible minorities and one LGBTQ member. Every province is represented, along with Canada’s north, and the members ages range from 30 to 66.

Of course, considering that the Liberals went from third-party status to a majority government there were a number of new MPs among those selected for the cabinet, and other veterans who didn’t make the cut. Focusing on gender parity, diversity and representation from across the country—and cutting the number of cabinet ministers from Harper’s 39 — meant that plenty of experienced MPs were left without a portfolio.

Here are some of the key portfolios in Trudeau’s cabinet, and what awaits the incoming ministers now that they’re officially on the job.

Finance: The finance portfolio is never an easy one, and that won’t be an exception for new finance minister Bill Morneau. Morneau will have to implement the tax changes the Liberals campaigned on: higher rates for the wealthiest Canadians, lower rates for the middle class, a reversal on income splitting for families with children younger than 18 and reversing increases on TFSA limits. He will also have to figure out how to balance and expedite the party’s promises for infrastructure investment, which are part of their campaign program of running budget deficits for three years. He’ll also be expected to quickly deal with Quebec’s request of federal assistance for Bombardier, in light of the billion-dollar bailout the province just gave the company. And because the projections in the budget put forward by the prior Conservative government in April is considered outdated because of lower-than-expected economic growth, Morneau will need to get his ducks in a row quickly in order to provide an economic update this fall.

Environment: Climate change will be a chief concern for new environment and climate change minister Catherine McKenna, and quickly: Trudeau has already indicated he intends to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in late November, and it stands to assume that his new environment minister would join him. McKenna will also be involved in debates over pipeline approvals, and future resource development and energy policies more generally. And Trudeau promised to hold a first-ministers meeting within 90 days of taking office, for the purpose of discussing a deal between Ottawa and the provinces on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Those are talks that will be starting from scratch, which means a lot of work ahead for McKenna.

Foreign Affairs: Canada-U.S. relations are at their frostiest point in some time, thanks in part to ongoing disagreement between the Harper and Obama administrations about pipeline access. Dealing with the dispute and improving relations between the two governments will be key for incoming foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion. The new prime minister has high-profile international meetings coming up quickly: the G20 summit in Turkey, beginning Nov. 15; the APEC summit in the Philippines, beginning Nov. 18; and a Commonwealth meeting in Malta, beginning Nov. 27. It seems clear Dion will play a role in prepping for these events as well.

Health: New Liberal MP Jane Philpott has been tasked with a significant portfolio in the health ministry. This department is sure to be a major focus of the promised increase in federal-provincial discussion that Trudeau said he’d bring to his government, given that health care is under provincial jurisdiction. Trudeau promised to renegotiate a new health funding accord with the provinces, and to work with them on bulk drug purchases — two more tasks Philpott would head up. She would also oversee the Liberals’ promised $3-billion investment in home health care, which is supposed to roll out over four years.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs: Trudeau made two key promises on aboriginal issues while campaigning. One, he promised to remove boil-water advisories on First Nations reserves across the country within five years. And two, he committed to the immediate launch of a national public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. One of these promises comes with a built-in timeline, and the other comes with its own sense of urgency and considerable public support, which means two immediate priorities for new indigenous and northern affairs minister Carolyn Bennett. Since the election there has been criticism that Trudeau’s promises to indigenous Canadians are unachievable — a perception that Bennett has now been tasked with proving incorrect.

Justice: Though they voted for Bill C-51, Trudeau campaigned on his intention to reform Stephen Harper’s wide-reaching anti-terrorism legislation. The task of working on that controversial law will fall to Jody Wilson-Raybould, the new justice minister. The country is also quickly coming up against the February deadline for new regulation on doctor-assisted deaths, imposed by the Supreme Court of Canada earlier this year. While an application for an extension on rewriting legislation is likely, it’s still a sensitive issue that Wilson-Raybould must deal with sooner rather than later.

National Defence: Trudeau already announced that Canada will be removing military aircraft from the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and the country’s continued role in any action in the Middle East will of course be of chief concern to Harjit Sajjan, the new Liberal minister of national defence. Trudeau also promised in his party’s platform an “open and transparent” position to replace the CF-18 fighter planes, and the F-35 stealth fighter is out. That’s another question Sajjan will have to answer. And his ministry is also expected to play a role in the processing of refugees from Syria and Iraq, particularly as military transport vehicles could be a key part of getting so many people in such a short period of time.

Immigration: The Conservative minister who last held this post, Chris Alexander, faced considerable backlash after the drowning death of a young Syrian refugee whose family had been trying to come to Canada. The crisis in Syria — which has led hundreds of thousands to flee the country, many heading to Europe — has only intensified since then. Trudeau promised to bring 25,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees to Canada by the end of year, which is only eight weeks away. New citizenship and immigration minister John McCallum will have this considerable task to undertake in an early test, under what could be considerable public attention.

International Trade: Chrystia Freeland was expected to get a cabinet role, and she has a significant one in international trade, particularly with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal in the works. Trudeau agreed to promote the partnership in a call with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe on Oct. 30. He’s also indicated that he won’t allow a free vote on TPP in Parliament. That means that part of Freeland’s work could go beyond simply working out a deal on TPP into getting her caucus on board with it.

Veterans Affairs: There has been a lot of attention this week to the ongoing issue of PTSD in Canadian soldiers returning from combat, and to alleged failures of the country’s mental-health services for veterans. While campaigning, Trudeau promised to hire 400 new services delivery staffers and additional medical-health professionals. Kent Hehr is inheriting a portfolio that some have accused the Conservatives of neglecting, financially and otherwise.