Cabinet shuffles are often much ado about nothing; a way for governments to reward loyal backbenchers and steal a news cycle or two.
But they can also offer hints about how a government sees the challenges facing the country and the political challenges facing its party. Wednesday’s edition of musical chairs in Ottawa gave us a bit of both.
Moving the political macher Dominic LeBlanc to intergovernmental affairs is a canny move, given the political shakeup at Queen’s Park and the conservative resurgence in Alberta. Likewise, Jim Carr’s appointment to a new International Trade Diversification post, created with an eye to lessening our economic dependence on the United States under President Donald Trump.
We are worried, however, about another cobbled-together portfolio with an unwieldy name: the Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, given to former Toronto police chief Bill Blair.
In their news release about the new cabinet, the Liberals make clear Mr. Blair will be the minister responsible for “irregular migration.” Despite their avoidance of the inflammatory term “illegal border crossings," the appointment and hawkish name show the government is trying to signal toughness on an issue that has become a Conservative talking point.
In doing so, it appears to have reduced itself to playing crass politics with one of the country’s most delicate files.
Why else combine the job of cracking down on gangs with the job of handling an influx of asylum seekers, if not to signal that you view both issues through the lens of public safety? Why, indeed, give the position to a former hard-nosed cop?
The asylum-claim backlog in Canada is not about crime or even about “border security,” properly speaking. Rather, it is about how to quickly and fairly process thousands of applicants for refugee status once they have entered the country through the United States, which they inevitably find a way to do.
That is a tricky and potentially expensive administrative problem the government should be taking seriously. Let’s hope Mr. Blair understands this and treats his new job title as more than the ugly window dressing it seems to be.