Lori Turnbull is the interim director of the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie University and a fellow at the Public Policy Forum.
Randy Boissonnault is a first-time member of Parliament for Edmonton Centre. He is a Liberal in a part of the country that is considered a Conservative stronghold. He's worked as a journalist, he was a Rhodes Scholar and he is the first openly gay MP to be elected in Alberta.
Mr. Boissonnault is a former parliamentary secretary for Canadian Heritage and, in November, 2016, was appointed as Justin Trudeau's special adviser on LGBTQ2 issues. The Prime Minister's website states that his main role in this capacity is to advise the Prime Minister on the "development and co-ordination of the Government of Canada's LGBTQ2 agenda." The government's desire to make progress on this agenda was reinforced by a 2017 budget commitment to establish an LGBTQ2 secretariat within the Privy Council Office, the Prime Minister's public-service department. This secretariat would support the work of the special adviser.
That the Prime Minister has identified a point person on LGBTQ2 issues is no surprise, given the Liberals' pledge to implement diversity and inclusion across government and to repair relationships that, historically, have been fraught with discrimination. It is time, though, for Mr. Boissonnault to take a seat at the cabinet table.
It is odd that he is not a minister already. After all, in a Westminster system such as ours, a minister is, by definition, an MP who is a "special adviser" to the prime minister on some area of policy and governance. So why isn't Mr. Boissonnault around the cabinet table with the other "special advisers?" If he were there, the LGBTQ2 agenda would be more clearly and effectively implemented across government. The LGBTQ2 agenda is about equality, diversity and inclusion, and the decisions that cabinet makes, regardless of the area of policy, should be made explicitly in relation to these values.
The Prime Minister's "Open and Accountable" government document offers a clear and accurate description of cabinet's role. It states that cabinet is a "key mechanism for achieving overall coherence and co-ordination in government policy." The fact that each minister is responsible for a particular portfolio (or portfolios) gives the impression that government is easily organized into silos with clear lines of authority and accountability, but we know that the siloed approach doesn't really work. What happens in one ministry affects other ministries, and so decisions are made by cabinet as a whole and the responsibility for these decisions is collective.
The cabinet room is where the direction of government is set. Ministers come with proposals called memoranda to cabinet, and ministers deliberate on the merits of these proposals and decide whether and how to proceed, based on the government's broad objectives. The inclusion of an LGBTQ2 minister in these deliberations would ensure that cabinet decisions, and therefore government policies and programs, are inclusive of the goals of the LGBTQ2 agenda. It is undesirable to hive off the special adviser on LGBTQ2 issues; let's bring his advice together and on par with the advice that the Prime Minister receives from his other ministers.
This new minister would likely have a close working relationship with the Status of Women minister. Together they would be natural champions of gender-based analysis plus (GBA+), an internationally recognized policy tool designed to assess how diverse groups of people are affected by policy decisions. Ottawa has committed to using this tool across government departments.
Given the government's pledge to create an LGBTQ2 secretariat, it only makes sense to give that secretariat a minister. Also, in light of the explosion of sexual-misconduct allegations in Canadian politics, it is particularly urgent now to fortify the government's commitment to respect and equality for all Canadians. The Prime Minister himself alluded Tuesday to the complexities involved in establishing the appropriate processes and support systems for dealing with sexual harassment allegations. All political parties have agreed to fast-track sexual-harassment legislation for federal workplaces and Parliament Hill staff. Though many of the recent complaints have involved male aggressors and female victims, the truth is that harassment cuts a number of ways and involves diverse groups of aggressors and victims. The LGBTQ2 agenda and the GBA+ tool are all about taking a holistic approach to issues of equity, diversity and inclusion. Mr. Boissonnault should be out front on this. If he were a minister, perhaps legislation of this kind would have been in his mandate letter.
Due to the resignation of Kent Hehr, there is a vacancy around the cabinet table that Mr. Boissonnault could fill. His appointment would maintain the Prime Minister's commitment to gender equality in cabinet and would ensure that Alberta does not lose a minister. It makes sense from every angle and, with a year and a half to go until the next election, it's not too late.