Justin Trudeau’s remarks to the media following the swearing in of his new Cabinet earlier this week were stripped of the optimism and hope he brought to the same occasion in 2015. And so they should have been; while the Liberals may have been returned to power, it is to the much diminished power of a minority government with no seats at all in two provinces.
However, Trudeau’s inherent cheerfulness seems irrepressible:
“I’m very excited today to be able to get down to work the way Canadians asked us to in this last election. To pull together the country, focus on issues of economic growth for the middle class, to fight climate change, and to keep Canadians and their communities safe.”
Form or substance?
The inclusion of Indigenous culture at the ceremony – the event began with Algonquin drummers and ended with Metis dancers, and Governor General Julie Payette made her opening remarks in Algonquin – was important.
But, Trudeau’s previous government failed to act on a number of important Indigenous issues.
Canada opposed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) when it was first introduced in 2006, eventually endorsing it in 2010. However, until the federal government follows in the footsteps of British Columbia, which ratified UNDRIP earlier this year, this important international law is not legally binding at the national level. It is badly needed to ensure land and self-determination rights for Indigenous peoples in this country.
Trudeau received the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in a dramatic and moving public ceremony, eventually accepting the term “cultural genocide” used in the report, but the government has yet to take steps to implement the Calls for Justice that form the Inquiry’s recommendations.
Similarly, there has been a dearth of meaningful action to address the serious problems faced by many First Nations communities across the country, including poverty, a lack of safe housing, no clean drinking water and the ongoing removal of Indigenous children by child protection authorities.
This government must move swiftly and decisively on all these issues or its ceremonial nods to Indigenous cultures will be nothing more than that.
Because it’s 2019
Trudeau has, once again, produced a Cabinet containing an equal number of men and women, but, somehow, it does not seem as exciting as it did in 2015. Perhaps this is due, in part, to his expulsion of Jodie Wilson Raybould and Jane Philpott last spring when they challenged his actions in the SNC Lavalin matter. Or, perhaps, it is because the bloom is gone from our “feminist” PM due to his failure to address significant gender-based issues during his last tenure.
Despite this, women continue to occupy a number of key Cabinet positions: Maryam Monsef (Women and Gender Equality — formerly Status of Women Canada), Patty Hajdu (Health), Caroline Bennett continuing with Crown and Indigenous Relations, Chrystia Freeland (Deputy PM and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs), Filomena Tassi (Labour).
While women may have numerical parity with men in the Cabinet, the same is not true for the general results of the election. The number of women elected this time was 98, up by 10 from the previous election, giving them almost 30% of the seats in the House of Commons. However, women are elected at a much lower rate than men: approximately 16% of women candidates compared to 29% of men candidates win their riding.
According to University of Calgary professor Melanee Thomas, this is not because voters don’t want to elect women:
“The issue is that parties consistently across the board keep nominating women in places where they can’t win.”
The same is not true in ridings considered to be safe for a particular party: only 23% of candidates running in those ridings are women.
A new oath
During the SNC Lavalin scandal, JWR noted that the joint position of Minister of Justice and Attorney General created an inherent conflict for the person holding it. The Attorney General is responsible for making non-partisan judgements and decisions about federal prosecutions, whereas the Minister of Justice is involved in political and policy decisions at the Cabinet table. At the time, the PM appointed former Liberal Cabinet Minister Anne McLellan as Special Advisor to investigate and make recommendations about this. Her conclusion was that the positions could remain jointly held, but that a new oath should be developed to make the distinction in the two roles clear.
When sworn in as the returning Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, David Lametti took two oaths. In the first, as Minister of Justice, he promised to see that the administration of public affairs is in accordance with the law. In the second, as AG, he promised to uphold the Constitution, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary and of the prosecutorial function.
Even with two separate oaths, how can the AG be non-partisan while also sitting as a member of Cabinet? I am not convinced this solves the long-standing problem that JWR brought to our attention last winter.
What the . . . ?
Trudeau claims that voters told him to focus on economic growth for the middle class. To that end, he has created a new Cabinet portfolio: Middle Class Prosperity. Whatever does this mean? And why do we need it? It seems a bit like creating a portfolio called Equality for Men or White People’s Rights.
I’m all for this government getting down to work, but I want it to focus on the climate crisis, Indigenous land and other rights, ending violence against women and a national pharmacare plan.
The middle class is already prosperous – that’s why we’re the middle class.