Five things to note about the new federal cabinet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Wednesday:
He has a deputy prime minister
Besides being intergovernmental-affairs minister, in charge of dealing with Canada’s restive provincial premiers, Chrystia Freeland has the title of deputy prime minister. It’s a symbolic appointment meant to indicate that a minister is especially important but it has not historically come with any particular authority. Trudeau’s father, Pierre, named Canada’s first deputy prime minister in 1977; that was Allan MacEachen, a veteran cabinet minister who was also the Liberals’ House leader.
Jean Chretien named trusted loyalists Herb Gray, Sheila Copps and John Manley as deputy prime minister at different times. Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney turned to Don Mazankowski, who was essentially the government’s powerful chief operating officer. Other prime ministers have named deputies to give elevated status to leaders of rival factions in their parties. Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper never had one and neither did Trudeau in his first term.
“I see it being very much a Freelandish role,” Trudeau joked when asked which type of deputy prime minister he sees Freeland being. “Chrystia and I have worked very closely together on some of the very biggest files.”
Dominic LeBlanc is president of the Privy Council (and nothing else)
The New Brunswick MP is a lifelong friend of Trudeau’s and was House leader, fisheries minister, intergovernmental-affairs minister and northern-affairs minister at various times in the last Parliament. He is also fighting cancer and is recovering from a stem-cell transplant. He appeared at Wednesday’s swearing-in looking gaunt and bald and wore a mask over his mouth and nose through most of the event.
The president of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada is formally responsible for the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic department that supports the prime minister, but in practice the prime minister handles it.
The Privy Council itself is a large ceremonial body made up of dozens of current and former cabinet ministers, Speakers of the House of Commons and Senate, governors general and Supreme Court judges and other similar figures — membership on the council is what the title “The Honourable” indicates. It meets very rarely, sometimes not for decades, to do things like approve royal marriages.
LeBlanc’s position keeps him as a cabinet minister but without putting consequential demands on him while his health is poor.
Consistent with his practice since forming a government in 2015, Trudeau named equal numbers of men and women to ministerial posts — 18 of each, plus himself. Freeland is clearly his No. 2 as deputy prime minister but many other key posts are held by men: Bill Morneau at Finance, Francois-Philippe Champagne at Foreign Affairs, Harjit Sajjan at Defence, Bill Blair at Public Safety, David Lametti at Justice, Ahmed Hussen at Social Development, Seamus O’Regan at Natural Resources and Jonathan Wilkinson at Environment.
Women do have other important portfolios: Anita Anand at Public Services and Procurement, Marie-Claude Bibeau at Agriculture, Patty Hajdu at Health, Catherine McKenna at Infrastructure and Carla Qualtrough at Employment, for instance. But women are also more likely than male ministers to have cabinet posts that don’t come with leadership of distinct departments, such as Bardish Chagger’s job as minister of diversity, inclusion and youth and Mona Fortier’s as minister of middle-class prosperity.
Beefing up the House-management operation
Making sure the Liberals can get government legislation through a House of Commons where they don’t hold a majority could be difficult and Trudeau has assigned some potent players to it.
Pablo Rodriguez is the Liberals’ new House leader. The Montreal MP was heritage minister until Wednesday, was previously chief whip (in charge of making sure the Liberals were never caught short of votes in the Commons) and was an MP during the fractious minority Parliaments of the 2000s. He’ll work with counterparts in the other parties to gauge their support for Liberal proposals and try to keep the House of Commons moving.
Another Toronto-area MP, Mark Holland, is staying on as chief whip.
Rodriguez’s deputy is Kirsty Duncan, a Toronto MP who was formerly minister of science and of amateur sport. Holland’s deputy whip is now former health minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor. Both are taking on jobs that will be important for the Liberals but they’re also losing a lot of formal status along the way.
Petitpas Taylor, in particular, is leaving a multibillion-dollar portfolio to support Holland in a post she held when Trudeau’s Liberals first took office in 2015. The fluently bilingual New Brunswicker has experience and close connections among the Liberals’ many Atlantic MPs.
Joyce Murray of Vancouver is leaving her job as president of the Treasury Board, the body that deals with the nuts and bolts of the federal government as an employer and buyer of goods, to be minister of digital government, which used to be only part of her job.
Catherine McKenna’s move from Environment and Climate Change to Infrastructure means leaving one of the highest-profile jobs in the Liberal government but also will make her less of a lightning rod for anger about carbon taxes and stiffer regulations.
The Canadian Press