Cabinet snub a missed opportunity for Liberals

One of the largest cabinets ever unveiled by a federal government in this country has a rather obvious shortcoming: a desperate shortage of representation from the three Prairie provinces.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/10/2021 (404 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

One of the largest cabinets ever unveiled by a federal government in this country has a rather obvious shortcoming: a desperate shortage of representation from the three Prairie provinces.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named 38 ministers to sit with him in a new minority-government cabinet. That’s nearly 25 per cent of Mr. Trudeau’s 160-member caucus, and eight more ministers than he had in 2015 when he enjoyed a majority.

And yet, even with all those warm bodies in his inner circle, Mr. Trudeau was inclined to name only two from the Prairies.

Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal (Justin Tang / Canadian Press files)

That is, one assumes, partly a result of the simple fact that from the eastern border of Manitoba through to the mountainous western border of Alberta, only six Liberals were elected: four in Manitoba, none in Saskatchewan and two in Alberta.

Saint Boniface—Saint Vital MP Dan Vandal retains his position as northern-affairs minister, with added responsibility for economic development in the Prairies, while Edmonton MP Randy Boissonnault was named minister for tourism and associate minister of finance.

Absent from the new roster is Winnipeg South Centre MP Jim Carr, who had held important roles in cabinet before being diagnosed with blood cancer, but was not invited back. While dealing with his health issues, he had been named special envoy to the Prairies. By all accounts, Mr. Carr wanted to stay in cabinet, but clearly Mr. Trudeau felt he did not need him, even in the expanded cabinet he unveiled this week.

What does this say about the Liberal government, its lack of connection with Western voters, and Manitoba’s place in the Liberal universe?

Although much has been said about the need for Manitoba to have two cabinet ministers, neither Liberal nor Conservative governments have consistently maintained two posts for the Keystone province. This isn’t about whether Manitoba deserves more cabinet posts; it’s about whether Mr. Trudeau should have put Manitoba MPs to better use in building support in the West.

At a time when the country is struggling to absorb the horror of unmarked graves discovered at former residential school sites in western Canada, Mr. Trudeau might have been well advised to appoint Mr. Vandal, who is Indigenous, to the new ministry of Crown-Indigenous relations. Or he could have elevated Winnipeg South MP Terry Duguid, a longtime environmentalist who served as chair of Manitoba’s Clean Environment Commission, to fill the role of minister of environment and climate change.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Carr served as special representative for the Prairies since 2019.

While there were several capable MPs available to fill those roles, appointing western MPs with bona fide credentials in Indigenous issues and the environment would have been wise for a number of strategic reasons: it would have demonstrated an effort to provide a western perspective in cabinet and, at the same time, showcased western-based ministers to represent the government in two portfolios that are of keen interest to western voters.

At present, there is realistically very little the Liberals can do to grow their base of support in western Canada; rather, the Grits must wait for a natural demographic evolution to overtake the deep-seated anti-Ottawa and anti-Liberal sentiments in the West.

In the meantime, however, Mr. Trudeau could have been more pragmatic in selecting at least one additional MP from Manitoba to carry the government’s colours into the battleground that is western Canada. His failure to do so has made the steep hill he is facing in the West just a little harder to climb.

History

Updated on Thursday, October 28, 2021 7:55 PM CDT: Corrects Boissonnault's title.

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