Trudeau’s cabinet: Built to drive

Paul Wells on Justin Trudeau’s first cabinet, which brings experience to tough challenges

Canada's new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (bottom row C) poses with his cabinet after their swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa November 4, 2015. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (front row, fifth from left) poses with his cabinet after their swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Nov. 4, 2015 (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

So much of the advance fuss over Justin Trudeau’s first cabinet had to do with questions of identity—How many ministers would be women? How many from Quebec? How many from B.C.?—that it’s easy, now we have names, to overlook the new government’s functional aspects.

As this cabinet came up the Rideau Hall driveway on foot, it looked pretty in its first official photo, but it is also full of people with pertinent experience in their assigned tasks. A finance minister who has created jobs. A foreign minister with a passport. A defence minister who has personally organized the large-scale delivery of lethal violence. A science minister who’s a scientist. A cum laude M.D. at Health. A transport minister who has been to lower-Earth orbit. A government House leader who has been making trouble in the Centre Block since before he could walk. This government is built for blowing, not just for showing. The new Prime Minister said he wants to meet the House in a month. This government, full of rookie MPs in key portfolios, will face two dozen parallel trials by fire. Somebody had that in mind while he or she was designing the thing.

Related: Get to know Justin Trudeau’s first cabinet 

In many spots there is an intriguing—indeed, risky, but it’s a risk this new government has no choice but to take—mix of real-world experience and parliamentary inexperience. Take some of the most important ministries. Bill Morneau at Finance, Harjit Sajjan at Defence, Jody Wilson-Raybould at Justice and Jane Philpott at Health are rookie MPs. Each has long experience in relevant fields, but all will be grateful to be surrounded by veterans at other posts.

Dominic LeBlanc knows Parliament’s arcane crannies better than most. He used to play in the hallways with Justin Trudeau when their fathers were colleagues in Pierre Trudeau’s government. He worked in Jean Chrétien’s PMO. He’ll come in handy when sunny ways aren’t enough. Scott Brison, a former deficit-hawk Progressive Conservative at Treasury Board, will lead a cabinet committee on penny-pinching with John McCallum as co-chair. Both will seek to ensure the government isn’t profligate or silly as it begins to spend more than the Harper government did.

Then there is Stéphane Dion at Foreign Affairs. A former leader can present a delicate challenge to a new prime minister: deserving of respect, but a bit of a drag as a leader tries to go in new directions. Many before Trudeau have come up with the solution of making the former leader a globetrotter-in-chief: Dion follows in the footsteps of such ex-leaders as Joe Clark, Peter MacKay, John Kerry, William Hague, Laurent Fabius. He is an inspired choice for foreign minister, and there were a lot of jobs he could have had that would have been problematic in one way or another.

Related: The making of a Prime Minister

The government has no minister for official languages: One presumes it’s subsumed among Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly‘s responsibilities. It has no intergovernmental-affairs minister: Trudeau will take care of federalism himself. (So, in a very different way, did Stephen Harper, come to think of it, whatever his various intergovernmental ministers might have thought.) It has no industry minister: Navdeep Bains, a key Liberal organizer in the Toronto suburbs, becomes the “minister of innovation, science and economic development.” Here’s some free advice for him. One of his first acts should be to reveal the biennial report of the government’s own Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC), which was supposed to become public in May before the Harper government hoisted it. The STIC council’s report will describe a mess in Canadian science, R&D and industrial innovation. Then Bains should give the very same council a mandate and a short deadline to suggest solutions.

Book-learning is no guarantee of success. About twice a year, I spare a mournful thought for Michel Dupuy, a star Liberal candidate in 1993. A career diplomat, novelist and poet, Dupuy was Chrétien’s first minister of Canadian heritage. He made an inappropriate phone call, was not quick-witted in his question period defences, and was slowly, inexorably, hounded out of his job by the opposition parties. The same, more or less, will certainly happen to one or more of the sun-kissed ministers who swore an oath of office this morning. Enoch Powell once said all political careers end in failure. But before they end, much is possible, and it was the feeling of possibility at Rideau Hall this morning that I’ll remember.

The Trudeau cabinet

Our gallery introduces you to the new government’s ministry.


Trudeau’s cabinet: Built to drive

  1. You forgot to mention Ralph Goodale in charge of the RCMP,

  2. Antique reference…..should be ‘built to fly’

    • Hey Em,

      Try not being negative on everything, all the time. Might make for a happier life. Just sayin’….

  3. The Revenue Minister, Diane Lebouthillier, does not have a financial background AFAICT. Is this unusual or par for the course for Revenue?

    • It’s not unusual, but it’s not par for the course either. From wiki for the 28th ministry (Harper 2006-2015), National Revenue ministers were:

      Carol Skelton (2006-2007) occupation: Administrator, coordinator, farmer, rancher, recruiter. Does not appear to have post-secondary education.

      Gordon O’Connor (2007-2008) B.Sc. in Mathematics and Physics from Concordia University (Montreal) and a BA in Philosophy from York University.

      Jean-Pierre Blackburn (2008-2010) bachelor’s degree in administration and a master’s in regional studies and intervention from the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi

      Keith Ashfield (2010-2011) studied Business at the University of New Brunswick for two years.

      Gail Shea (2011-2013) does not appear to have post-secondary education.

      Kerry-Lynne Findlay (2013-2015) Bachelor of Arts in history and political science (UBC). She then graduated from the same university in 1978 with a law degree.

      You can go through the same exercise for governments that preceded Mr. Harper’s. It’s all on wiki.

    • According to The Tyee, the following ministers in the Harper cabinet had no post-secondary education:

      Gerry Ritz (agriculture)

      Denis Lebel (transport and infrastructure)

      Leona Aglukkaq (health)

      Peter Kent (environment)

      Gail Shea (national revenue)

      Julian Fantino (international cooperation)

      Bernard Valcourt (minister of state for Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency)

      Lynn Yelich (minister of state for western economic diversification)

      Ted Menzies (minister of state for finance)

      Tim Uppal (minister of state for democratic reform)

  4. Good for you to end on that optimistic note. We can only hope that a new day has indeed dawned.

  5. Now that Trudeau has finished blowing smoke up everyones ass (or has he), it’s time to pay the piper. This untested cabinet will come back to bite him in the ass if they are left to their own devices.

  6. The feeling of possibility? Sheesh Paul Wells, the bias is surely all in my head — as you INSISTED it would be — but it sure sounds like a stream of fawning love letters to this new government has been coming from you as of late. The tome you wrote a week or so ago was surreal. I get it: you love this Trudeau era. Now please please hold them to account, not just on their promises, but if they do something untoward, instead of ignoring it like many on the left do, please report it.

  7. Not only lack of experience yet you do not have to be born in Canada to become a minister. Strange but
    true. How about the long form cenus , any views on that. Found it a bit intrusive last time . Do not plan on completing another .Nov 11 coming up next week, always an important time for us Canadians. Seems as most values are gone by the wayside. Why are we bringing 25000 refugees into the country. Stay out we are full , we dont have enough to keep our own people fed. 65000 alone off in Alberta. So why.We are not here to take in all the people who have troubles in the world. The pot smoking . love one and all, kumbaya , come on in we will look after you and your delinquent offsprings( as the man who shot the brave soldier at the tomb of the unknown soldier last year was) new prime minister has no respect from myself nor other hard working Canadians who families have been protecting the Country for many generations. Just saying

    • Why do they still have OPG in Ontario.

    • And whining Albertan doorknob like you have no respect from myself nor other hard working Canadians with IQs in the triple digits. Just saying