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This article was published 4/11/2015 (1575 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For the MPs lucky enough to get appointed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first cabinet, there is good news and bad news.
The good news is these men and women, particularly those who are new to federal politics, will have acquired power and influence beyond anything they have known in their political or professional lives.
The bad news is for the next four years at the very least, these ministers will find themselves pulled in more directions than a hunk of Silly Putty on Christmas morning.
This is the challenge facing Manitobans Jim Carr, now the minister of natural resources, and MaryAnn Mihychuk, minister of employment, workforce development and labour, both of whom were named Wednesday to Trudeau’s first cabinet.
Beyond learning all they can about their new ministries, job one for Carr and Mihychuk will be to undertake meaningful discussions with the province. These will not be easy discussions. The province has a pent-up desire to reopen discussions on a wide range of issues it feels were either neglected or mishandled by the Conservative government. These include:
❚ A commitment to long-term infrastructure funding, including a separate stream of money for big, once-in-a-generation projects such as a road on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.
❚ Reopening talks on federal transfer payments, particularly federal contributions for health care, which are due to be scaled back in 2017.
❚ Removing the federal cap on immigrants coming to Manitoba through the provincial nominee program and restoring both funding and provincial control over settlement services.
❚ Improving the overall living conditions on Manitoba First Nations.
"We know them, and we can collaborate together," Premier Greg Selinger said Wednesday. "We welcome the opportunity to do that."
Translated, the premier is relieved to be dealing with someone other than a Conservative cabinet minister.
During the last nine years, Manitoba has produced Tory ministers who, by all accounts, performed admirably in their duties. However, when it came to their dealings with their home province, things were more complicated.
When the Conservatives won a minority in 2006, Manitoba was represented in cabinet by Provencher MP Vic Toews. Now a Queen’s Bench judge, Toews became renowned for his hardline approach to federal-provincial relations. Never before had Manitoba experienced such a rigid, uncompromising federal cabinet representative.
What Toews brought to his relationship to Manitoba was stronger than tough love; it was a curious blend of contempt and a lack of interest, two qualities typically not part of the makeup of most regional political power brokers.
Toews started off by reframing or outright reneging on infrastructure agreements the previous Liberal government had forged with Manitoba. He also became a shrill opponent of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Even though Stephen Harper committed to building and funding the operation of the museum, Toews loathed the project and its principal sponsors, the family of the late Israel Asper.
Toews told supporters in southeastern Manitoba he was not interested in any federal project in Winnipeg, given he personally gained no political benefit from an act of federal largesse in the capital city. It was a comment that caused some folks in the provincial government to call Toews the "regional minister for Steinbach."
When Toews left politics, Saint Boniface MP Shelly Glover took over the job of regional minister. Glover initially attempted to strike a different tone with the province. However, it was not long before the same cold contempt crept in.
The relationship between Glover and the NDP government in Manitoba hit rock bottom in 2014 when she issued a statement criticizing a decision by the Convictions Review Board to grant Vince Li unescorted passes from the Selkirk Mental Health Centre.
Li, who suffered from a profound mental illness, was found not criminally responsible for the slaying of a man on a Greyhound bus on its way to Winnipeg. Glover called the decision to grant unescorted passes an "insult to law-abiding Manitobans."
Glover’s public denunciation was a clear example that she, like Toews before her, viewed her work as Manitoba’s senior minister through a purely partisan lens.
It’s unlikely any province will have to endure a relationship such as that with the Trudeau cabinet. First, the Liberal campaign promises to address many of the issues — health-care funding, new support for aboriginal people and new money for infrastructure — first ministers have put on the top of their federal wish lists.
As well, it’s unlikely the Liberal ministers will be so provocative in their dealings with the provinces. The hyper-partisan culture of the former Harper government was an outlier in Canadian politics, where federal and provincial governments have, on the surface at least, used a more civil tone.
The true test of whether there is a new culture in relations will come not from the platitudes, but from the announcement of new and meaningful agreements that settle long-standing issues.
Government in Canada does not work properly when the governments can’t work together. In the wake of the Harper era, there is much improvement to be done in this area.
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.
Updated on Wednesday, November 4, 2015 at 9:38 PM CST: Writethough, changes photos