Western News

November 21, 2019

Western Canada: The delicate act of building a federal cabinet amid an atmosphere of Western alienation
Western Canada: The delicate act of building a federal cabinet amid an atmosphere of Western alienation

Wendy Cox and James Keller

Good morning. Wendy Cox here in Vancouver.

Jonathan Wilkinson’s official biography on the Liberal website explains that before being elected in 2015, the MP for North Vancouver spent over 20 years in business and working for a variety of British Columbia causes. He was a Rhodes scholar with experience in the energy and tech sector.

On Tuesday, as news leaked out that he would be appointed environment minister after serving in the last government as fisheries minister, a bona fide being highlighted was one not included in his official biography. That qualification was where he was born: Saskatchewan.

Chrystia Freeland spent a high-profile term in the last government as foreign affairs minister, handling some of the thorniest government files from the deteriorating relationship with China to the sticky relationship with the United States under President Donald Trump. Her official Liberal biography notes that she, too, is a Rhodes scholar and was educated at Harvard. The third paragraph makes reference to the fact that she was born in Alberta.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will announce his cabinet this morning. Building a cabinet is an especially delicate craft: prime ministers and premiers must balance gender and ethnic diversity and regional representation while also matching skills and qualifications to portfolios.

After last month’s election, Mr. Trudeau had yet another challenge: how to address the hole in the middle of the country left after all the Liberals in Saskatchewan and Alberta were defeated.

The Liberals didn’t merely lose those seats: voters in those provinces sent a loud angry message of rebuke to all things Liberal, even costing Saskatchewan stalwart Ralph Goodale his seat after sitting as a Liberal MP since 1993. The Liberals received only about 14 per cent of the popular vote in Alberta and 12 per cent in Saskatchewan.

To address the problem, which was blaringly obvious on election night, Mr. Trudeau appointed federal Liberal cabinet minister and Albertan Anne McLellan to consult on how to respond.

Without a MP from the oil-producing provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta to act in an energy portfolio, Mr. Trudeau is expected to appoint Seamus O’Regan minister of natural resources. Mr. O’Regan comes from Newfoundland, which is an oil-producing province.

As Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife and reporter Daniel Leblanc report, there will also be changes to the Prime Minister’s Office after the shuffle to address concerns about a lack of voices from Quebec and the West.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.

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ALBERTA ELECTION COMMISSIONER: The Alberta government is under fire for removing the province’s election commissioner, who is currently investigating the United Conservative Party’s leadership race that elected now-Premier Jason Kenney. The government insists the decision to restructure how elections laws are enforced, including terminating commissioner Lorne Gibson’s contract, has nothing to do with an investigation that has already resulted in more than $200,000 in fines. NDP Leader Rachel Notley is asking the Lieutenant-Governor to intervene (which legal experts say won’t happen).

ESCAPE FROM IRAN: Canadian-Iranian academic Maryam Mombeini’s family is revealing how she escaped from Iran after she was trapped there for more than a year. Her case caused an escalation in diplomatic tensions between the country and Canada.

HEALTH-CARE LAWSUIT: Closing arguments began this week in a high-profile B.C. constitutional case about the right to private health care. Vancouver orthopedic surgeon and private-medicine advocate Brian Day argues the current law is unconstitutional and forces patients to endure long wait times.

REAL ESTATE: Prices for new condos in Calgary continue to drop, as the persistent slump in the oil industry continues to weigh down the city’s housing market. Calgary is bucking a trend that’s seen the condo market stay largely resilient in other distressed Canadian markets. At the same time, a slowdown in Vancouver’s housing market (which remains the most expensive in the country) is creating new challenges for the province’s finances.

ALBERTA COURTS: Alberta courts now allow Indigenous witnesses to swear an oath on an eagle feather. Until last week, individuals making an oath in civil, criminal or family matters in Alberta could swear only on a religious text or make a non-religious affirmation, but eagle feathers will now be available in all proceedings as a traditional Indigenous form of conscience binding.

GAS PRICES: The B.C. government is taking steps to bring transparency to gas prices, proposing legislation that would require companies to disclose a breakdown of what they’re charging drivers for fuel.

B.C. TEACHERS: The union that represents teachers in B.C. is gearing up for a potentially tense round of contract negotiations. There is a long history of acrimony between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the government, including a court ruling several years ago that found the previous BC Liberal government violated teachers’ rights by using legislation to change their contracts.

BUS SAFETY: The Opposition BC Liberals are calling for seat belts on school buses, tabling a private member’s bill that would make them mandatory.

GREY CUP: The Grey Cup is set for this weekend in Calgary, as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats prepare to take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers


Gary Mason on the removal of Alberta’s election commissioner: “But this is outrageous. You don’t fire a guy in the middle of an investigation.”

Barrie McKenna on pitching the oil sands: “Canada urgently needs to create its own energy narrative – a story that acknowledges that the world appears to be on the cusp of peak oil demand. Stopping the exodus of investment from the oil sands will require more than just building pipelines and speeding regulatory approvals for new projects, as Alberta wants.“

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