The 2019 Liberal cabinet marked the retrenchment of Justin Trudeau‘s agenda.
Expansive global rhetoric has made way for domestic preoccupations, and the time of activism is being displaced by concerns that hit close to home.
The first part of that transformation is that the existential danger from without, namely U.S. President Donald Trump and his threats to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, seems to be mostly in the past. Now the Prime Minister faces tensions within the country that threaten unity and the survival of his Liberal government.
Chrystia Freeland was the symbol: She moved from Foreign Affairs to become Deputy Prime Minister, responsible for intergovernmental affairs, where the Toronto MP will be reminding people she grew up in Alberta, and trying to reconcile the oil-patch anger with urban-progressive demands for action on climate change.
The second part is that 2015 hoopla for change and activism that was embodied in Mr. Trudeau’s first cabinet has been largely replaced by Takin’ Care of Business. The cabinet choices emphasized a more workaday approach with a focus on economic matters and business.
Mr. Trudeau’s first cabinet was sworn in on an unseasonably sunny November day in 2015, with parity between the number of men and women as a powerful social signal. The PM quickly left for a tour of international summits, including the Paris summit on climate change, and convened a mostly friendly group of premiers to work on a climate plan, all while the government airlifted Syrian refugees.
This time, the agenda for the second-term cabinet will be more day-to-day, more contested in provincial capitals and focused closer to home.
Catherine McKenna had been a lightning rod for criticism from the oil patch and conservative politicians, who caricatured her as an ecowarrior in the cabinet. She was moved from Environment to Infrastructure, where her new job is to push out projects to build bridges, waterworks and transit.
In comes new Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, the former fisheries minister, who is a sharp-minded former Rhodes scholar but lacks Ms. McKenna’s flair. That alone might make the post more low-key. Certainly, Mr. Wilkinson’s job is to try to cool the clash between the Liberal climate-change agenda and the struggling oil and gas sector.
Like Ms. Freeland, Mr. Wilkinson will play up his Prairie roots – he grew up in Saskatchewan and served as an adviser to NDP premier Roy Romanow. He has a background in environmental issues, but in business, running clean-tech companies. He’s supposed to be someone that folks in Alberta and Saskatchewan won’t see as an opponent.
Mr. Trudeau didn’t give up on green-activist symbolism, but look how he used it: He named one of Quebec’s best-known environmentalists, Steven Guilbeault, to cabinet as Heritage Minister – but kept him far from the intersection of environment and business.
Of course, part of the making of this cabinet was about Mr. Trudeau’s internal politics, now that he has been cut down to a shakier minority and seen his personal popularity shrink. He named 36 ministers, aside from himself, nearly a quarter of his caucus of 157 MPs. Many of the names didn’t change. The winners included some of Mr. Trudeau’s personal friends, such as Newfoundland MP Seamus O’Regan and Montreal MP Marc Miller, and loyalists who rallied round the PM during the SNC-Lavalin affair.
The minority PM also moved to boost the Liberal political presence in regions. Former trade minister Jim Carr, now being treated for cancer, was left out of cabinet but named special representative for the Prairies. Pablo Rodriguez was named Quebec lieutenant. New Economic Development Minister Mélanie Joly will oversee regional agencies with the aid of six parliamentary secretaries from across the country.
But most of the symbols of the second-term cabinet were far from the expansive rhetoric about virtuous activism Mr. Trudeau employed in 2015. This was about households, jobs and economic anxieties. He named Ottawa MP Mona Fortier as Minister of Middle Class Prosperity, whatever that is.
Even the new ministers named to key international portfolios could be seen as domestic economic signals. Trade Minister Mary Ng is also Small Business Minister, supposedly to encourage Canadian small businesses to export. New Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne is a former corporate lawyer with international business experience, and his biggest task will be coping with tense relations with China. It’s a safe bet his mandate is to repair relations and revive trade, not to confront Beijing.
That was not the expansive Canada-is-back rhetoric of 2015. Cut down to minority size, Mr. Trudeau built a 2019 cabinet to stress domestic issues, local concerns and policies that hit closer to home.
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