Political reporter Jane Taber takes an inside look at the week in politics.
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Twitter-averse MP becomes parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister
There was surprise in political circles when Justin Trudeau named his cabinet and a handful of his star candidates did not make the cut, including Toronto city activist Adam Vaughan and former Toronto police chief Bill Blair.
This week, however, Mr. Trudeau rewarded the MPs by making them parliamentary secretaries. It may not be a cabinet post, but it's a more prestigious position than being an ordinary MP. Considered a cabinet-minister-in-waiting, being a parliamentary secretary comes with an extra stipend of $16,600 a year, bringing their salaries up to $184,000. They assist their ministers by answering questions in the House or attending events on their behalf.
Mr. Vaughan and Mr. Blair are among 35 parliamentary secretaries – 12 are women – and all are matched to a senior minister and department. There are 30 cabinet ministers; some ministers have more than one (Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has two).
The Prime Minister has three parliamentary secretaries – two of whom are in charge of the extra portfolios he took on, Intergovernmental Affairs and Youth. That those areas are under his purview underscores their importance to him and to his mandate. (For example, former prime minister Paul Martin appointed Scott Brison, now the Treasury Board President, as his parliamentary secretary for Canada-U.S. relations. It was at a time when relations were a bit tattered after former Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish stomped on a doll that looked like George Bush for a This Hour Has 22 Minutes episode.)
Mr. Vaughan, who beat prominent NDP candidate Olivia Chow in downtown Toronto in the election, was given a top prize as the Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs.
Mr. Trudeau vowed during the election campaign that he would bring in a new era of positive and productive relations with the premiers. Mr. Vaughan, who is an expert on cities and affordable housing, will help manage this important relationship for the Prime Minister.
A former journalist, Mr. Vaughan is a good communicator, but he's wary of the social media tool that so many politicians have embraced: Twitter.
"The only thing that really works on Twitter is being funny," Mr. Vaughan said in an interview in the summer. "The angry stuff ... who wants that in their life?"
Mr. Vaughan says he has only been on Twitter for a year after being encouraged to join when he first ran for federal politics. He hasn't tweeted a lot, because he knows his limits.
"I have been described as a smart ass," he notes. "I am followed by my staff more than anybody else. ... There's a little sound of a submarine surfacing every time I tweet. It goes off in the office and somebody is paid to read it and pull it back [asking] 'Are you sure? Do you really want to say that?'"
Meanwhile, Mr. Blair, who was courted by the Liberals to run in Scarborough-Southwest, is now one of two parliamentary secretaries to Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould (PEI's Sean Casey is the other).
Mr. Blair and Mr. Vaughan are joined by six others from the GTA, including another rookie, Arif Virani, the MP for Parkdale-High Park who came to Canada in 1972 as a refugee from Uganda. He is the parliamentary secretary to John McCallum, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. They are in charge of the government's strategy to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees.
Mr. Virani is a university friend of Mr. Trudeau, and was part of the McGill University debating union; Gerald Butts, the Prime Minister's senior adviser, was also on the team and lived in the same residence as Mr. Virani.
Two others from the GTA, Mark Holland and Omar Alghabra, are former MPs from the Paul Martin era. Mr. Alghabra is working with Stéphane Dion, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and is in charge of consular affairs. Mr. Holland, who defeated Conservative immigration minister Chris Alexander in the riding of Ajax, is helping Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef, who came to Canada as a refugee from Afghanistan.
Honourables no more
When Paul Martin was prime minister, his parliamentary secretaries were sworn in as members of the Privy Council, giving them the title "Honourable" for life. That's why Scarborough-Guildwood MP John McKay, the new parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Defence, is "styled" the "Honourable John McKay." Mr. McKay was the parliamentary secretary to the finance minister in Mr. Martin's government. Stephen Harper dropped the practice when he became prime minister, and Justin Trudeau is following Mr. Harper's lead.
What Dalton McGuinty has to say about Gerald Butts and the 'Vulcan Mind Meld'
In his new biography, Making a Difference, former Ontario Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty has high praise for his former chief of staff, Gerald Butts, who is now Justin Trudeau's senior adviser. He describes their first meeting: "When Butts and I met in the summer of 1999, we hit it off right away. You could say we experienced a Star Trek 'Vulcan mind meld.'" He goes on to say that they were policy wonks, scanned the Internet in a healthy competition to find the most interesting ideas from around the world, and were "both energized by the opportunity to make real and lasting change," Mr. McGuinty wrote. "We were like two kids in a candy shop."