Two years ago, Justin Trudeau brought environmental activist Steven Guilbeault into his cabinet but didn’t dare make him environment minister. He was too much of an activist, too much of a red flag to the resource industry and business. Now he will steer Canada’s climate-change policy.
The Prime Minister wasn’t willing to take that risk before. He is in a hurry to take a few risks now.
Mr. Trudeau is a PM with a minority government, embarking on a third term. Minority governments tend to last a couple of years. And fourth terms are rare.
The cabinet he unveiled Tuesday signalled a handful of priorities – not just pandemic imperatives such as health care, but things such as climate policy that Mr. Trudeau wants to be part of his legacy. Two years ago, he formed a cabinet calculated for a risk-averse political world. This time he was willing to break a few dishes.
The point of appointing Mr. Guilbeault is precisely to send the message that Canada’s climate-change policy is shifting. When he came to power, Mr. Trudeau insisted a prime minister has to both fight climate change and to get Canada’s oil to market. On Tuesday, he talked about helping oil workers transition to new jobs and appointed an environment minister who never agreed with the Liberal government’s decision to buy the Trans Mountain Pipeline.
At the defence department, he had to replace Harjit Sajjan as the minister overseeing a military plagued by sexual-misconduct scandals. But he didn’t choose another former soldier, or a former sailor, or someone who fits a casting director’s stereotypical image of a defence minister – a middle-aged man – to cajole the military brass.
Instead, Mr. Trudeau sent in Anita Anand – a Toronto law professor with expertise in governance who was deemed a cabinet star because she made vaccine purchases happen – with a mandate to shake up the world of the generals.
Of course, there is calculated political symbolism to all that – to Ms. Anand’s appointment, and to Mr. Guilbeault’s. And one thing Mr. Trudeau wanted was to shake up his team.
But Mr. Trudeau is also scratching an itch he has clearly been feeling for more than a year: He wants to be seen as a bold, progressive PM.
Remember how he fired his finance minister Bill Morneau and replaced him with Chrystia Freeland, who was installed to be the fiscal architect of a new expansive (and expensive) program of what the Liberals thought would be a postpandemic agenda? That agenda never acquired sharp focus in mid-pandemic, and it didn’t seem all that clear to Canadians in the summer election campaign. But Mr. Trudeau hasn’t lost the itch.
The new cabinet lineup was supposed to signal that he wants to get some of that moving in his third term.
He named Ahmed Hussen as the first Housing Minister. He promoted Karina Gould, a 34-year-old mother of a three-year-old, to be Minister of Families and Children where she, along with Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, will be responsible for bringing provinces into a $10-a-day child-care plan – a lasting shift Mr. Trudeau should be able to count as part of his legacy. He put a tag team of ministers into health, making Carolyn Bennett Minister for Mental Health and Addictions.
Yet the most marked signal was clearly on climate change.
It’s not just Mr. Guilbeault. His predecessor at Environment Canada, Jonathan Wilkinson, who last year unveiled a plan to more than triple carbon levies, is now the Natural Resources Minister who will oversee the federal government’s resource and oil and gas policies.
But it is Mr. Gulbeault who is the walking symbol. He is a well-known environmentalist who co-founded the Quebec-based organization Équiterre in 1993 and, at 51, has never owned a car. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney found him so scary he called on the new minister to send an immediate signal that he will “not impose a radical agenda that would lead to mass unemployment.”
Yet the important point is that it is Mr. Trudeau’s climate agenda that is changing in the third term.
In the summer election campaign, he pledged that his government would be committed to ever-declining five-year targets for Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, with oil sands emissions declining, too. It is now Mr. Guilbeault’s job to sell a policy that all but rules out new oil sands projects.
Once, Mr. Trudeau shied away from putting an activist minister in charge of that file during a minority Parliament. On Tuesday, he showed that in his third term, he is willing to take more risks.
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