There is almost nothing more important for any Prime Minister than creating, managing and updating his cabinet. Not only are cabinet ministers the ultimate decision-makers in their departments individually, collectively they are the committee of individuals who direct the whole of the Government of Canada.
As a result, the cabinet needs to reflect all of Canada. While what that means has changed over the years, picking from the finite number of MPs elected (with some exceptions) building a cabinet that is both competent and representative is never easy.
Trudeau’s latest iteration of his cabinet came with three new faces, some missing faces but few big surprises. The cabinet continues to have gender parity (38 ministers, 19 men, 19 women), regional balance but a somewhat increased focus on areas where the Liberals clearly want to improve in the next election including rural areas.
While lots of folks will offer their analysis of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s choices today, we at Burrard Strategy are focused on the impact of those choices for British Columbia especially.
British Columbia went into today’s shuffle with four MPs in the cabinet: Harjit Sajjan, Carla Qualtrough, Joyce Murray and Jonathan Wilkinson. In a demonstration of just how significant the shuffle was, three of the four MPs have seen their portfolios change.
Harjit Sajjan: Minister of International Development and Minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada
Minister Sajjan was the most widely expected change: having been appointed Minister of National Defence with the first Trudeau cabinet in 2015, Sajjan has been roundly criticized for how he managed the reports of seemingly rampant incidents of sexual assault in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). He has been replaced at DND by Anita Aand (Oakville, ON) who led the government’s widely praised procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
Sajjan is now Canada’s minister of International Development and will be responsible for the brand new Pacific Economic Development Canada agency (PacifiCan) – more on that below.
Carla Qualtrough entered Rideau Hall as Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion of Canada and left in the same role. As a strong communicator and competent administrator leaving Qualtrough in charge of the government’s plans to support jobs and the economy as we move past covid is a clear vote of confidence from the PM.
Carla Qualtrough: Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion
Joyce Murray: Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
Joyce Murray – who came (a somewhat distant) second to Justin Trudeau in the last leadership race – was a late addition to cabinet after the departure of Jody Wilson-Raybould in 2019. She originally held the position of President of the Treasury Board and, more recently, was Minister of Digital Services.
Murray probably gets the prize for biggest promotion among the BC ministers with her move to Fisheries and Oceans (which includes responsibility for the Coast Guard).
While not always considered a plum position, Fish is an absolutely critical portfolio for those in the industry – people who happen to live in largely rural ridings on both coasts. Those are ridings where the Liberals did not fare as well in the last election – an area where they will need to improve if they want to win a majority eventually.
Putting Murray in this role speaks to her steady, competent management skills, her background in resource industries and her ability to communicate effectively and clearly with challenging stakeholders.
Jonathan Wilkinson: Minister of Natural Resources
In contrast, Jonathan Wilkinson was widely understood to be very happy at Environment and Climate Change, a portfolio now held by Steven Guilbault, the former head of Equiterre and Green Peace Canada.
Wilkinson will still be involved in the climate file as Minister of Natural Resources, however. This portfolio has long been the other side of the environment/climate coin and the ability of the two ministers to work hand in hand will be critical to any success – something that is clearly a huge priority for the government.
Regional Economic Development AgencyNow beyond the MPs from BC chosen to sit at the cabinet table, there are some other moves of note that we think will impact British Columbians:
A hugely important file for this government – and for British Columbians – is getting what could only be described as its biggest champion possible.
Steven Guilbault is an internationally recognized expert on all things climate. The former head of Quebec’s leading environmental organization – Equiterre – and a former leading figure in Green Peace and other similar orgs, Guilbault used to be known as “the Green Jesus of Montreal” (his hair was longer back then).
With COP26 – the leading international forum for climate change issues – being held next week in the UK, Trudeau will have a chance to quickly show off his new minister to a friendly global community. They will be very glad to see Guilbault in this role.
People who will not be so excited by Guilbault’s new role include everyone – especially those in Western Canada – looking to build new resource projects. Guilbault will be seen as the ultimate opponent to any new development – especially in oil & gas.
Guilbault’s early comments on projects like the TMX pipeline, old growth logging and the export of coal and other minerals from Canada will be critical to setting the tone.
But nothing he says will prevent him from becoming the new focus – indeed, obsession – of Western Premiers like Jason Kenney and Scott Moe who will undoubtedly see Guilbault as the reason for every negative outcome in the hydrocarbon industries going forward.
The New Regional Economic Development Agency
The Trudeau Government has not appointed regional ministers with any of its cabinets. While that hasn’t really changed this time around, the government has at least appointed ministers from the regions to run the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) rather than leaving them with the Minister of Industry as they had originally.
Literally days before the election was called this past August, the Trudeau Government announced the creation of a new regional development agency (RDA) for British Columbia called Pacific Economic Development Canada (PacifiCan).
Until that point BC was lumped in with the Prairies in Western Economic Diversification (WED). Other RDAs exist to cover northern Ontario, southern Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
With a half a billion dollar budget and based in Surrey, PacifiCan could be a game changer for companies looking to start, expand or grow in BC. By giving that responsibility to Minister Sajjan, it almost certainly softened the blow of being demoted from DND to International Development.
But this new RDA – and Sajjan’s role in being the first minister to run and shape it – is a huge opportunity for businesses in British Columbia.
The Trudeau Government has spent significant energy working toward reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous People – a file of critical ongoing importance in British Columbia.
This work is done through two cabinet ministers: the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and the Minister of Indigenous Services. As the titles suggest, the division of labour between the two is split between one minister focusing more on policy issues, the other on delivering services to First Nations.
This shuffle saw Marc Miller move from the service side to the policy side and former Health Minister Patty Hadju being sworn in as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.
Miller is clearly a trusted ally of the PM and a logical promotion from one side of the indigenous file to the other.
Ignoring what Hadju’s move may or may not say about her time at Health Canada, having a new face in the reconciliation file is more interesting. This presents an opportunity for new ideas and new approaches on the reconciliation file.