O'Toole attacks Trudeau's 'inexperienced' cabinet as a threat to national unity

·6 min read
Conservative leader and leader of the Official Opposition Erin O'Toole listens to a question from a reporter during a news conference following caucus in Ottawa, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press - image credit)
Conservative leader and leader of the Official Opposition Erin O'Toole listens to a question from a reporter during a news conference following caucus in Ottawa, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press - image credit)

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole tore into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new cabinet lineup today, saying he's assembled a group of "largely inexperienced and ideological individuals" that pose a threat to the country's national unity and post-pandemic economic recovery.

In a statement released as ministers were still being sworn in at Rideau Hall, O'Toole said Trudeau's cabinet picks are "yet another example" of his "record of style over substance."

"Today's changes to the cabinet represent just another example of the prime minister continuing to reward ministers who have consistently demonstrated incompetence and a lack of accountability," O'Toole said.

Before today's swearing-in ceremony, O'Toole called for Harjit Sajjan to be dumped as defence minister over his "track record of failure" on the sexual misconduct file in the Canadian Armed Forces. "Canada's Conservatives are calling on Justin Trudeau to finally do the right thing, and fire Minister Sajjan from cabinet," O'Toole said in a Monday statement.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

While Sajjan was removed from that high-profile post, the B.C. MP will stay in cabinet as the minister of International Development. Ontario MP Anita Anand — who served as Public Services and Procurement minister during the mad scramble to buy COVID-19 vaccines over the past 16 months — will replace Sajjan at defence. Anand is only the second woman in Canadian history to hold that job.

Mélanie Joly, was demoted from Heritage to serve as the minister of tourism in August 2018 after facing a torrent of criticism over her handling of the so-called "Netflix tax" and reforms to the broadcasting sector. She's now making a triumphant return to a prominent position with her appointment Tuesday as minister of Foreign Affairs.

While O'Toole described the new cabinet as "inexperienced," just nine of the 39 members in this cabinet are new ministers.

Only one person named to cabinet today — Pascale St-Onge, a former Quebec union leader who will serve as the minister of sport — was first elected in October's general election. Of the nine new members appointed today, Ginette Petitpas-Taylor served previously in cabinet as health minister between 2017 and 2019.

O'Toole's talk of a national unity threat appears to be a thinly veiled reference to the appointment of long-time Quebec climate activist Steven Guilbeault to the position of environment minister. In the past, the Conservatives said Guilbeault's very presence in the Liberal Party suggests Trudeau is hostile to the oil and gas industry, a business that sustains tens of thousands of jobs and pumps billions into government coffers.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Before entering electoral politics, Guilbeault co-founded Équiterre, a Quebec environmental organization, and served as the director of the Quebec chapter of Greenpeace for more than a decade.

While at Greenpeace, Guilbeault was arrested after climbing a 340-metre tower and unfurling a banner that read "Canada and Bush Climate Killers" — an act of civil disobedience meant to draw attention to inaction by Canada and the U.S. on the Kyoto Protocol climate agreement.

Later, Guilbeault emerged as an ardent opponent of pipeline development, including the Trans Mountain expansion project that is now being built by a Crown corporation.

Greenpeace celebrated Guilbeault's appointment Tuesday, calling him a leader who "knows the file."

"He knows the key players and he understands just how much is at stake," the group said in a media statement.

Trudeau previously defended his decision to run Guilbeault under the Liberal banner, saying in 2019 that the party welcomes "a broad range of views on a lot of different issues."

Construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline is well underway, with more than 9,400 people actively working on the project in hundreds of communities across B.C and Alberta.

O'Toole said another pressing concern for the Conservative Party is the country's economic recovery, suggesting Trudeau's new cabinet is ill-equipped to deal with ongoing COVID-related issues.

"With inflation at a near twenty-year high, causing gasoline, grocery and housing prices to skyrocket, and businesses suffering from major supply chain interruptions, it is clear from today's appointments that the Trudeau government is not serious about addressing Canada's economic challenges," he said.

"Canadians will only get higher prices, higher taxes, and smaller paycheques under this government's economic plan. What they deserve are solutions to our economic challenges, not more risky and unproven economic schemes."

At a press conference on Parliament Hill, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also criticized the new cabinet. He took issue with the appointment of Carolyn Bennett, the outgoing Crown-Indigenous relations minister, and Marc Miller — who, until today, served as the Indigenous Services minister — to new cabinet positions.

Miller will replace Bennett at Crown-Indigenous Relations, the portfolio that deals with land claims and ongoing reconciliation efforts. Bennett, who has served in an Indigenous-related portfolio since the Liberal government was first elected in 2015, will now be the minister for mental health and addictions.

WATCH: Singh reacts to appointment of Canada's new defence minister

No longer health minister, Patty Hajdu will take over for Miller at Indigenous Services, a department that is primarily focused on the delivery of government programs to First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities.

The NDP has consistently criticized the government's move under Bennett and Miller to launch an application for a judicial review of a landmark human rights tribunal compensation order for First Nations children.

The federal government has argued that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal overreached and was wrong to order Ottawa to pay $40,000 to each child affected by the on-reserve child welfare system since 2006.

Singh calls for 'concrete actions'

"If Justin Trudeau had a problem with the approach taken by the previous ministers, then they probably wouldn't be in cabinet. But they're still in cabinet, so that means they were OK with their approach. That's a problem," Singh said. "If someone's done a bad job, they shouldn't be there anymore."

Singh said his priorities for this next session of Parliament are implementing paid sick leave, boosting funds for health care, a national child care regime and a pharmacare plan. He said he worries this new cabinet will fail to deliver.

"The cabinet changes don't change who's at the top of this and a lot of these things have been around for the past six years since Mr. Trudeau's been in power and those changes haven't happened," he said.

"Changing the minister that deals with Indigenous Services doesn't change that they've got a decision to make in a couple days about whether they're going to appeal or fight Indigenous kids in court. Those are the things we want to see — concrete actions, not just who's in the different roles."

National Indigenous leaders, meanwhile, said they're willing to work with Miller to deliver results.

In a media statement, Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald congratulated the new ministers and said she "look[s] forward to continuing the work we've done" with Miller on reconciliation.

"My hope is that these individuals, and all ministers in cabinet, will work alongside First Nations to find a healing path forward in 2022 and beyond," Archibald said.

The Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) said it was "pleased to learn" that Hajdu would assume her new role and that Miller would still be involved in the Indigenous file after the cabinet overhaul.

"All of these new ministers have shown compassion in their previous roles and in their work at the federal level, and we are hopeful that spirit will continue as they take on their new jobs," Lorraine Whitman, the president of NWAC, said in a statement. "These appointments are good steps forward for reconciliation."

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