Justin Trudeau continues to make one thing clear to Canadians: the West is not a priority for his government. If it were, he would have found a way to ensure the Prairie provinces had meaningful representation around the cabinet table.
Instead, the prime minister announced Tuesday only two MPs from the Prairies (out of 39 for the country) are in his new cabinet: one from Manitoba and one from Alberta.
When the big decisions are made around the cabinet table on issues such as health care, reconciliation with Indigenous people, the environment and foreign affairs, people living in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta will be, for the most part, on the outside looking in.
What a snub.
Part of the reason for that is the Liberals continue to be so unpopular in the West (largely because they ignore the West) that they elected only six MPs in the Prairies in last month's federal election — four in Manitoba, two in Alberta and none in Saskatchewan. That’s up from four elected Prairie MPs in the 2019 election (all from Manitoba). Still, even with only a half-dozen MPs to work with, Trudeau could have bolstered Prairie representation in cabinet — not only through more appointments, but with higher-profile posts.
Manitoba Liberal MP Dan Vandal gets to keep his northern affairs job, but little more (he becomes the lead on Prairies Economic Development Canada). Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault from Edmonton was given the junior post of tourism. Both positions carry little weight around the cabinet table.
Surely Vandal, who is Métis, was ready to be elevated to a position such as Crown-Indigenous Relations. What better time than now, when reconciliation has captured the attention of Canadians as never before, than to appoint a capable, experienced Indigenous MP from the Prairies to that department?
Meanwhile, Jim Carr lost his cabinet post, the closest Manitoba had to a regional minister. There were other capable MPs to take his place if needed, including Winnipeg South Liberal MP Terry Duguid, who has vast experience in public office and is a longtime loyal party member. It’s hard to imagine Duguid’s career and academic credentials on environmental issues (including as former chair of the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission and one-time executive director of the Manitoba Climate Change Task Force) wouldn’t qualify him for a cabinet post in a government that lists climate change as one of its top priorities.
Also, if Winnipeg North MP Kevin Lamoureux, who has represented provincial and federal ridings in Winnipeg for more than three decades (including one of the most diverse constituencies in Canada), isn’t ready to provide cabinet with a Prairie perspective, when is he?
There were options for Trudeau to bring more Prairie MPs into the cabinet fold and include a more geographically diverse set of voices. He chose not to.
In the past, Manitoba would typically have one high-profile regional minister (former MPs Lloyd Axworthy, Vic Toews) and often one other cabinet minister (former MPs Steven Fletcher, Shelly Glover for the Conservatives and Ron Duhamel or Rey Pagtakhan for the Liberals). The two other Prairie provinces would be equally represented.
Very little happens in government without the attention and political will of individual cabinet ministers.
Cabinet appointments are not just symbolic acts. Very little happens in government without the attention and political will of individual cabinet ministers. Broad policy may emanate from the Office of the Prime Minister. However, unless an issue or a regional priority is driven by a member of cabinet, it has little chance of survival. It requires the dogged determination of cabinet ministers to move files forward, especially those that are difficult to manage.
When the Prairies have almost no one around the cabinet table, it’s almost impossible for their interests to be heard, especially when they compete with priorities in other parts of the country.
Who will be there for Manitoba when issues such as transfer payments, child care or international trade are debated? Beyond one MP with, at best, a mid-level cabinet position, nobody.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.