April 8, 2020

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Room in Liberal cabinet for second Winnipeg MP: Axworthy

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should appoint a second Winnipegger in cabinet, to account for the Liberals lacking a single seat in the vast swath of land between greater Vancouver and the Manitoba capital, says one longtime Canadian politician.

Former Manitoba MP Lloyd Axworthy was the only prairie MP to be a minister when he was a member of Pierre Elliott Trudeau's cabinet from 1980 to 1984.

DYLAN ROBERTSON / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Former Manitoba MP Lloyd Axworthy was the only prairie MP to be a minister when he was a member of Pierre Elliott Trudeau's cabinet from 1980 to 1984.

"You can’t leave a situation like that; it will just fester," said Lloyd Axworthy, who served in Liberal prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau's cabinet, including as the sole Prairie MP to be minister from 1980 to 1984.

On Wednesday, Justin Trudeau left the door open to a forming a cabinet without a minister from Alberta and Saskatchewan, where his Liberals were wiped out in Monday's election.

Liberals erred in axing regional posts: Axworthy

OTTAWA — Former Liberal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ought to have not abolished the convention of having regional ministers.

OTTAWA — Former Liberal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ought to have not abolished the convention of having regional ministers.

Jim Carr, MP for Winnipeg South Centre, was the sole Manitoban in cabinet after Trudeau ejected MaryAnn Mihychuk in early 2017. While he often helped steer issues such as the Churchill railway and Kapyong barracks, Carr did not have a formal role in major appointments or regional initiatives.

That's despite the previous Tory Harper government sticking to the decades-long practice.

Axworthy believes the lack of a formal mandate as regional minister caused some of the constant tension between the Manitoba provincial and Trudeau governments, with Carr leading “a series of intermittent transactions” on the environment and infrastructure.

He said the 1867 Constitution doesn’t adequately address regional representation, despite the issue being key to holding the country together.

“The election's results have clearly shown a need for reform and inclusion that's not just of a cultural or group basis, but for regions themselves,” Axworthy said.

“It’s kind of daunting, but I think it presents an opportunity to do some serious thinking (and) brainstorming."

— Dylan Robertson

"Not all governments in history have had representations from every corner of the country. There have been different approaches taken," Trudeau said Wednesday morning, in his first comments since his election-victory speech.

The Liberals took numerous seats in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, as well as a healthy contingent in Montreal and the Vancouver area. But the governing party has no seats from the edge of Surrey, B.C., to the Winnipeg airport, aside from the territories.

This comes in a period of stagnation for the oil sector, where large crowds have mobilized against new regulations on energy projects that hardly registered on the campaign trail in Ontario and Quebec.

“You can’t leave a situation like that; it will just fester." — Lloyd Axworthy

Some have called for Alberta and Saskatchewan to try seceding from Canada, a point Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister dismissed Tuesday.

"You overcome your difficulties together," he said, in remarks that gained national attention. "(If) we're gonna make the country work, we work together on it. We make a commitment to it; it's a relationship."

Pundits have speculated about Trudeau appointing a senator into his cabinet to represent Alberta and Saskatchewan, similar to Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s appointment of Alberta senator Bud Olson from 1980 to 1984, to help guide his controversial pipeline policy.

Yet, Justin Trudeau has committed to a Senate free of ties to political parties, making it unlikely he would invite a current senator to join his cabinet nor appoint someone for such a position through Saskatchewan’s vacant seat.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister dismissed calls for Alberta and Saskatchewan to try seceding from Canada.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister dismissed calls for Alberta and Saskatchewan to try seceding from Canada.

That means it’s time to appoint a second Winnipegger to cabinet, argues Axworthy.

"I'd like to see a second minister from the caucus here, that might have responsibility for some of the key issues in the Prairies," he said Wednesday.

Axworthy served in the Manitoba legislature from 1973 to 1979, and the House of Commons from 1979 to 2000, under the Liberal banner. He holds the highest honour in the Order of Canada.

During his time in federal cabinet, Axworthy had one of his Ottawa staff screen all cabinet documents for anything that could impact the Prairie provinces, so he could connect minister with mayors or give them advice to avoid unforeseen missteps.

"You overcome your difficulties together. (If) we're gonna make the country work, we work together on it. We make a commitment to it; it's a relationship." — Manitoba Premier, Brian Pallister

Trudeau said he’ll reveal his gender-balanced cabinet Nov. 20. It’s unclear whether the House of Commons will sit before Christmas.

The prime minister said he's reaching out to western premiers and leaders in an effort to understand how best to represent them. He specifically mentioned mayors and twice named Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, sparking rumours around the Hill he’ll be tapping Nenshi for a cabinet post.

Cabinet members are virtually always chosen from the House of Commons, but it is not legally necessary.

Trudeau might also try forming deeper ties between Ottawa and mayors, with the federal government leaning on support from cities such as Winnipeg that sit in provinces lead by conservative premiers.

Winnipeg South Centre MP Jim Carr is expected to be reappointed in Trudeau’s cabinet.

TIJANA MARTIN / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Winnipeg South Centre MP Jim Carr is expected to be reappointed in Trudeau’s cabinet.

The prime minister has also ruled out the idea of a formal or informal coalition with the NDP or Bloc Québécois, suggesting he’ll seek support on individual pieces of legislation from a mix of other parties.

Axworthy said the rise of the Bloc means Ottawa has to make sure other regions have their voices heard: "The Atlantic, and the Prairies in particular, they’re not places to fly over. They've got to be strongly involved in the activity of government."

He said the Trudeau’s reconciliation agenda requires enough voices from the region with the highest proportion of Indigenous people.

Jim Carr, MP for Winnipeg South Centre, is widely expected to be reappointed in Trudeau’s cabinet.

Axworthy said any of the other three Liberal MPs who held their seats in Winnipeg would be fit for cabinet —Terry Duguid, Kevin Lamoureux and Dan Vandal — supported by bureaucrats at Western Economic Diversification offices across the region.

It’s unclear how long the looming Parliament will last, though many MPs will not qualify for a generous pension unless they serve until fall 2021, a point that has buoyed Liberal strategists.

Meanwhile, the prime minister took partial responsibility for the recent nasty campaign.

"I think there were big substantive ideas that weren't fully debated in, in this election campaign, and I regret that. And I recognize that much of this campaign tended to be around me, and I do hold a bit of responsibility for that," Trudeau said Wednesday.

"Canadians expect us to work together, to listen to each other, to figure out a way to move forward that isn't as divisive and challenging as this election was."

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Wednesday, October 23, 2019 at 7:37 PM CDT: Fixes typo

8:53 PM: Adds clarification

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