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Will be gender balanced and there will be no coalition
There’s an old story long-told about Sir John A. Macdonald’s time as Canadian prime minister. Once, when checking into a hotel, he was required to fill-in the hotel registry. After writing his name he was required to list his occupation. He wrote “cabinet-maker.”
Later on today, in Ottawa, Justin Trudeau will unveil his new cabinet and all these ministers, some new, some returning, will be sworn-in by the governor general. We know a few things about this cabinet already. The prime minister has indicated that it will be gender-balanced, in terms of cabinet ministers not counting the prime minister, as it has been since 2015.
The membership of the cabinet will also all be drawn from the parliamentary ranks of the Liberals party sitting within the House of Commons. The prime minister has said that this cabinet will not represent a coalition with any other party, so members of the NDP or the Greens will not be invited to sit at its table.
This cabinet will also not contain any members representing ridings from Saskatchewan or Alberta. The Liberals failed to elect a single member of parliament from either of these provinces and, as it is parliamentary custom that members of cabinet ordinarily hold seats in the House of Commons, so that they can be answerable and accountable to that House, this cabinet will respect the wishes of the voters of these two provinces that all their MPs sit on the opposition benches.
Beyond these points, just a few people within Trudeau’s inner circle know who will be in the cabinet announced later on this morning and what the structure of this cabinet will look like.
"Another issue to keep in mind is that not all cabinet portfolios and their ministers are equal." — David Johnson, Political Insights
So, what follows is my own assessment of what Trudeau and his key advisers might have been thinking about over the past few weeks as they were engaged in the very intricate process of cabinet-making.
First off, cabinet-making is all about politics and any prime minister’s strategic thinking about key priorities, how to implement core campaign promises, and how to turn policy ideas into program realities. Of course, the political tensions in thinking about all these points is simply accentuated when the prime minister leads a minority government.
Another issue to keep in mind is that not all cabinet portfolios and their ministers are equal. Changing politics and national priorities will always dictate that some departments and their ministers are more significant than others at any given point in time.
So let’s take a look at what some of the key departments will be in this latest Trudeau cabinet.
The Department of Finance is always of central importance in that its minister is responsible for budget planning and managing the national economy. Look to see Bill Morneau continue in this position.
The past election has revealed sharp regional divisions within the country and the need for the federal government to display critical diplomatic skills in advancing its environmental, economic, health care development and national unity priorities all while dealing with some skeptical to hostile provincial premiers.
The Department of Intergovernmental Affairs will possibly rise in strategic importance and, arguably, Canada has no better chief diplomat than Chrystia Freeland. She would be ideal as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, and also as Deputy Prime Minister.
Such a move, however, would create an opening at Global Affairs. Former minister of national defence Harjit Sajjin, already well-skilled in dealing with the diplomacy of NATO, would be a fine choice for Foreign Minister.
Next come the departments of environment, innovation, science and economic development, natural resources, and health. All four of these organizations will have major roles to play in implementing the Trudeau government’s core campaign initiatives. If Catherine McKenna is considered to be too polarizing at Environment she might be a perfect choice for minister of health, charged with implementing national pharmacare.
An opening at environment could then be filled by Navdeep Bains, former minister of innovation, science and economic development, with Jonathan Wilkinson, a British Columbia MP originally from Saskatchewan, filling Bain’s old portfolio. And natural resources would be an ideal fit for Marc Garneau.
This is only scratching the surface of the complexities of cabinet-making. The full cabinet will be revealed in just a few short hours.
Dr. David Johnson, Ph.D., teaches political science at Cape Breton University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org