Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan's appointment to the cabinet in 2015 garnered a chorus of wows in press stories that labelled the former lieutenant-colonel who had done three tours in Afghanistan as a "badass." This week, he'll unveil a plan to buy second-hand fighter jets from Australia.
A year ago, Mr. Sajjan had returned from Africa and was making plans for a "Canada's back" hard-edged peacekeeping mission with 600 soldiers. Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau instead announced the peacekeeping plan is a grab bag of equipment and a smaller contingent that might be deployed later. In between, Mr. Sajjan's image as a soldier's soldier was tarnished when he exaggerated his role as the "architect" of the biggest Canadian battle in Afghanistan.
All of it seems a lot less badass now. And not just around Mr. Sajjan. A number of the shiny figures in Mr. Trudeau's first cabinet have lost their gloss this year.
The obvious example is Finance Minister Bill Morneau – the Bay Street catch recruited to give Mr. Trudeau's Liberals cred in corporate Canada – who now finds his political judgment questioned by Liberal MPs who sit behind him in the Commons.
There are others. Mélanie Joly, the former Montreal mayoral candidate, came roaring into politics with a high-achiever's confidence, declaring sweeping plans to rewrite Canada's cultural policy for the digital age. She unveiled a Netflix production commitment and was accused of letting internet goliaths dodge taxes while doing little for Quebec culture. Now she's regularly caricatured by cartoonists – La Presse's Serge Chapleau drew her as a cardboard cutout last week – and lampooned in Quebec as a bafflegab-spouting politician.
The Liberals once promised a Team Trudeau of "A" players. In opposition, Mr. Trudeau used that as an answer to allegations he was a lightweight. He told other Liberals he was sharp enough to recruit top talent. "Fives hire threes, but nines hire tens," he'd say.
Some are still highly rated. Former journalist Chrystia Freeland, the Foreign Affairs Minister and NAFTA negotiator, now has the starring role in the Liberal cabinet. Jane Philpott, a family doctor who spent years practising in Niger, won respect as health minister and faces a new difficult task as Minister of Indigenous Services. There are unflashy competents such as Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Natural Resources Minister James Carr.
But it's been a year of wear and tear on a cabinet that really was formed from a surfeit of impressive records and remarkable stories. That was not just the CVs of Mr. Morneau and Ms. Joly. There were people including Kent Hehr, a former litigator and provincial MLA in Alberta who campaigned in the wheelchair he has been in since he was nearly killed by a gunshot as a young man, and Amarjeet Sohi, once wrongly imprisoned in India on subversion charges, who had worked his way from Edmonton bus driver to city councillor.
But Mr. Hehr was demoted from Veterans Affairs in August after cabinet colleagues and fellow Liberal MPs complained he wasn't responsive to problems and wasn't getting the job done. Now Minister of Sports and Persons with Disabilities, he spent last week fielding complaints he spoke condescendingly to a group of thalidomide survivors ("Everyone in Canada has a sob story," he reportedly said) and mothers who had been denied maternity benefits.
Mr. Sohi, you might be surprised to learn, is also a federal cabinet minister. As Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, the Liberals should expect him to have a high profile, drawing attention to all the things being built with Ottawa's billions. Mr. Sohi didn't have noticeable disasters in 2017, he just didn't attract much notice.
Others had run-of-the-mill troubles, such as Revenue Minister Diane LeBouthillier, who stumbled defending the Canada Revenue Agency for policies the government disavowed a day later.
Some ministers in every government struggle each year. Hunter Tootoo had to resign after six months. Maryam Monsef saw her reputation plummet last year in the electoral reform debate, and was shuffled from Democratic Institutions to Minister of Status of Women in January.
But there are now a lot of scuff marks. Mr. Sajjan isn't hobbled running defence, but he's less valuable in selling the not-quite-as-advertized Liberal defence policy. Ms. Joly is no longer a glamorous representative in Quebec. Mr. Morneau will not be effective setting finance policy if his own Liberals doubt he can do the politics. And Mr. Trudeau is going to have to recruit again in 2018.