On October 21st, Canadians returned the governing Liberal Party to power via a second term minority government. With cabinet ministers scheduled to be sworn in on November 20th, there is imminent pressure upon the Prime Minister to carefully select strong candidates and unveil a powerhouse cabinet. The competence of this cabinet will determine the government’s future ability to sustain a minority government for a full, four-year mandate.
Less than three weeks after the 2015 election, Trudeau’s decision to establish the first-ever gender-balanced cabinet garnered both national and international attention, especially his justification of “because it’s 2015.” Nevertheless, as a result of nearly a decade of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in power, the cabinet had been filled with fresh faces – many with little to no practical political experience.
Fast forward to this year, when nearly all of Trudeau’s cabinet ministers were successful in their re-election bids and are no longer fresh faces on Canada’s political scene. This time around, Trudeau promises again to name a gender-balanced cabinet. But the Prime Minister’s decision to delay the naming of his cabinet until nearly a month after the election has analysts predicting that a significant shuffle may take place.
Political strategists are suggesting that Trudeau select his cabinet ministers carefully, particularly following the SNC-Lavalin affair, which led to the resignation and removal of two cabinet ministers and exposed divisions within the Liberal Party. At the time of SNC-Lavalin, a majority government meant that internal conflicts had less of a damaging effect on the party as a whole. But after having been demoted to minority status, this time around, any factionalism within the party could have much more resounding impacts on overall unity.
As one analyst describes it, Trudeau in 2015 had selected a cabinet which he perceived to be his “fantasy team”. But fantasies quickly unravelled as problems with cabinet appointments surfaced throughout the government’s mandate. For instance, former Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo stepped down from his position due to addiction-related issues as well as an inappropriate relationship with a member of staff, while former Sports Minister Kent Hehr resigned due to allegations of sexual harassment.
Despite most cabinet ministers being re-elected in their ridings, political strategists have noted that certain cabinet portfolios may need to be re-evaluated before they are reinstated. Catherine McKenna, who had been serving as the Minister of Environment, has been at the receiving end of criticism and sexist harassment over her decisions while in office, to the extent that she has required security details on numerous occasions. Considering this, certain analysts speculate that McKenna will be given a break from this position.
Another cabinet portfolio under scrutiny is that of the Government Leader: while during a majority government, this role is primarily administrative, in a minority government it demands a good negotiator who can strike deals across party lines. Analysts are predicting that current Government Leader and Kitchener MP Bardish Chagger may be replaced with a more bilingual, Quebec-based MP in order to gain the support of the newly-strengthened Bloc Quebecois.
Disillusionment towards the government in Western Canada was evident in the blue wave sweeping this region during the election. In fact, the new Liberal caucus will contain no representatives from Saskatchewan or Alberta serving in Parliament. According to Trudeau, ensuring that the concerns and desires of Western Canadians are represented in government has been a top priority for the Liberals.
As a result, Trudeau has reached out to a former Liberal Edmonton MP for advice on how best to govern during this transition period. Strategists have recommended that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who was born and raised in Alberta, be utilized as the key link between Western Canadians and the Government.
The Liberal stomping in Western Canada resulted in the loss of two key cabinet members: Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi and veteran parliamentarian and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. Having served 26 years as the MP for Regina-Wascana, Goodale had worked as a trusted advisor to the Prime Minister, who often sought his advice on various issues throughout his first mandate. While candidates to replace Sohi remain unknown, analysts are suggesting that former Toronto Police Chief, MP Bill Blair, would be the best option for Public Safety Minister.
The Prime Minister’s four years of co-operation with fellow party members has perhaps given him a better understanding of the strengths and vulnerabilities of each. In the coming weeks, Trudeau will not only be expected to form a competent cabinet, but will also need to provide adequate resources and assistance to each portfolio – a major criticism of his government in the past. It is undeniable that Trudeau’s decision will be tough: a drastic shuffle could lead to frustrated cabinet ministers, while a lack of a change could be demoralizing to ambitious backbenchers in the party.
Edited by Lewie Haar.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.
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