OTTAWA — Manitoba MP Jim Carr says he will have more time to advocate for residents of the Prairies after he was reappointed to the federal cabinet Tuesday, this time without being accountable for a specific department.
"It's an opportunity for me to roam around the West, and make sure my colleagues in Ottawa hear very clearly what's on our minds out here," Carr told the Free Press.
He spoke following the cabinet swearing-in ceremony, which was held via videoconference.
Beyond a pay boost and job perks, Carr says having a second minister from Winnipeg will help the Liberals better understand how western Canadians are faring during the pandemic.
Ever since the Liberals were virtually wiped out between Vancouver and Winnipeg in 2019, Carr has helped Prime Minister Trudeau shape Ottawa's regional response to business needs and social issues.
Carr to try smoothing out vaccine stumbles
OTTAWA — Federal Minister Jim Carr said he’ll do whatever he can to help the Prairies get a smooth rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, chalking up criticism to miscommunication.
All three Prairie premiers have pushed back on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for chiding provinces for not quickly using all doses they’ve received.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and his peers have argued it would be easier to get out doses if Ottawa gave clearer timelines and large enough shipments that meant scarce doses didn’t have to be meticulously allocated.
Some premiers say they would have preferred to buy doses directly from manufactures. Meanwhile, Indigenous leaders say provinces aren’t letting them help decide which of their citizens get prioritized.
“If there are problems in communication; if messages aren't getting through, it's part of my role to ensure that is dealt with,” Carr said.
“I'll help wherever I can. Where there's another voice that's needed; if there is another relationship to be developed — it's my role … to make sure that the federal voice is heard. and that the provincial opinions are listened to.”
Carr swore his oath in a morning Zoom call with Gov.-Gen. Julie Payette, where he was formally presented as "minister without portfolio, to be styled "special representative for the Prairies."
He's held that role without being a minister since November 2019 in which he touched base with reeves, professors, provincial governments and industry leaders. He also sat in on occasional meetings of a confidential steering committee of ministers, dubbed "agenda, results and communication."
Now, Carr will attend weekly cabinet meetings, and he expects to be part of more ministerial committees.
"My work will be similar, but I'll have an opportunity to be more involved directly with cabinet colleagues," he said.
Carr will support the other federal minister from Winnipeg, St. Boniface-St. Vital MP Dan Vandal, who remains in charge of relations with the Pallister government — though the Prime Minister’s Office has largely overtaken that role.
Pallister welcomed Carr's new role, telling reporters "I wish him all the best, as I have several times in the past."
As minister, Carr will receive $87,200 in addition to the basic MP salary of $182,600, as well as a car, driver and a car allowance.
In the past, Carr served as a minister, first overseeing pipelines and then non-U.S. trade deals. He stepped back in fall 2019 after being diagnosed with blood cancer.
“Effective regional ministers can be worth more than a dozen MPs even, just because they're at the centre of the action." – University of Manitoba Professor Emeritus Paul Thomas
The MP for Winnipeg South Centre appeared healthy after months of struggling to regain weight following cancer treatments.
He laughed at the idea that not being in charge of a department would be a letdown.
"Without having a department that reports directly to me gives me more time to get out and listen to people, and talk to people and have a better understanding of what's motivating Prairie folk these days. So I'm not in the least discouraged," he said.
Paul Thomas, a professor emeritus of the University of Manitoba, said Carr has a point, because regional representation often comes down to who has the ear of the prime minister.
"Effective regional ministers can be worth more than a dozen MPs even, just because they're at the centre of the action," said Thomas, a longtime political observer.
"That's his full-time occupation now, and he doesn't get deflected by ‘What appointments have to be made within my department of government,’ and all the other things that take up a lot of day-to-day time of ministers."
Tuesday’s cabinet shuffle came after a minister, Navdeep Bains, said he wouldn't seek another term in office, while Liberal party officials have been told to prepare for an election, adding to widespread speculation there will be a vote in the spring.
Carr said showing results is key to the Liberals winning over Alberta and Saskatchewan voters, who kicked out all Liberal MPs in fall 2019.
Winnipeg Conservative MP Raquel Dancho said she’s thrilled Carr is well, but argued his re-entry to cabinet suggests Vandal hasn't adequately represented Manitoba.
"It's an admission that Liberal representation at the cabinet table of Manitoba clearly wasn't adequate," said the MP for Kildonan-St. Paul.
She argued the vaccine rollout and projects such as the North End sewage treatment plant would otherwise have gone smoother.
"We could have had shovels in the ground months ago if we could just have all three levels of government working together a bit more in sync," Dancho said.
"With two at the table now, there should be no excuse."