Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced his new cabinet to Canadians. He has also had some interesting discussions with leaders of the opposition parties. Both of these give rise to speculation on what to expect from the Liberal government in the foreseeable future.
The good news is that this time around the prime minister has actually lived up to his promise of gender equity in the cabinet both in terms of representation and responsibility. Three of the top positions in the cabinet, posts with timely and important agendas, have gone to women.
Chrystia Freeland, of course, remains as Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister. Clearly, there are many Liberal insiders who see her as the heir-apparent to Justin Trudeau. How quickly push becomes shove remains to be seen. In the meantime, Ms. Freeland holds the second most powerful position in government and the photo-ops and scrums will escalate as she and her handlers seek more exposure.
The appointment of Anita Anand as Minister of Defence was a smart move. Harjit Sajjan, simply had to go, and at a time when sexual misconduct is a huge problem in the military it makes sense to appoint a woman to the top job.
Anand, who represents an Ontario riding, is a lawyer with cabinet experience and a reputation for getting things done. In her previous ministry she was responsible for rolling out COVID-19 vaccines and her organizational skills were evident. She has a reputation for toughness when it is required and, certainly, she is now in a place where that will be a useful attribute.
The elevation of Mélanie Joly to Minister of Foreign Affairs is an interesting one. Ministers in this portfolio have gone in and out like a swinging door in the past several years, a detriment to Canada on the world stage. It will be intriguing to see how long Ms. Joly can hold out. There has been criticism of this appointment because of a widely held belief that she blew her tenure as Heritage Minister. However, she is a polished politician with other accomplishments who played a leading role in the Liberals’ election campaign. And the fact that the left-leaning Toronto Star doesn’t like her makes her okay with me!
These, in my view, are reasonable appointments of qualified individuals. There are others, however, that concern me.
Chief among these is Steven Guilbeault, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change. That one is a bad move. This is a man who has been arrested as a Greenpeace activist. He is clearly one-sided in his beliefs. He does not, in my view, understand or believe in the need for balance between dealing with the essential issues of climate change and the need to move Canada forward on key environmental issues in a manner that also protects our economy, jobs for people, and our quality of life. No matter the urgency, no cabinet position merits a zealot.
I also have some concern about Marc Miller, a life-long friend of the prime minister, who is the new Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations. He appears to be a step up from the previous minister, but his statement right out of the box that he wants to “give land back” to Indigenous people is in my view a poor start to his tenure. Instead, his first priority should be to ensure clean and fresh water in every First Nations community in Canada.
He also needs to find a way to get his prime minister out of the hole he dug for himself, and indeed for all Canadians, when he said that Canadian flags on federal buildings, which have been at half-mast for almost half a year to remember the deaths of Indigenous children in residential schools, will stay that way until Indigenous leaders say they can go up.
That is unacceptable and simply another tool handed to First Nations leaders to negotiate for what they want from the Canadian government. RoseAnne Archibald, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, made this clear when she said, “There needs to be another symbolic gesture if Canada wants to raise its flag.”
Perhaps Minister Miller, his government, and yes, First Nations leaders, need to take serious note of Mohawk leaders, who have raised their flags, to be in a position to lower them again on November 11 to honour those who died fighting for our country.
“You can’t lower a flag on November 11, unless you raise it,” said retired Gen. Rick Hillier in a conversation with the National Post. And that’s the point. Flags must always be raised after a reasonable and traditional time of remembrance so that they can be lowered again with significant meaning at appropriate times.
One serious flaw with this cabinet is that while Eastern Canada is well represented in the cabinet, Western Canada is not. From Thunder Bay in Ontario to the Pacific Ocean, there are only six members in cabinet, four of them in British Columbia and only two in the three prairie provinces combined. This does not bode well for Canadian unity where serious divisions still exist.
In addition to unveiling his new cabinet this past week, the prime minister has been meeting with opposition leaders. Media speculation, based on reliable sources, suggest a deal may be in the making between the Liberals and the New Democrats to keep the government in power for at least three years. This would mean that the NDP would always vote with the government on any motions of confidence that could force an election. It would mean they would have to support the Throne Speech, the budget, and other critical legislation put forward by the Liberal government. While not technically, it would effectively be a coalition government. This would only happen if the NDP got something big in return.
The New Democrats would, under those circumstances, force at least part of their socialist agenda on the Trudeau Government as a price for their guaranteed support. That’s the scary part. Canada has thrived because, while the pendulum has swung, we have ultimately found the middle.
We need to find that again. Extremism has fatal flaws.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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