Carr loses his seat at the Cabinet table amid Trudeau’s snub; region left with only two ministers
Justin Trudeau continues to make Canadians understand one thing: the West is not a priority for his government. If so, he would have found a way to ensure that the Prairie provinces had meaningful representation around the Cabinet table.
Instead, the premier announced on Tuesday that only two MPs from the Prairies (out of 39 for the country) were 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 peoples, the environment and foreign affairs, the people living in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta will be, for the most part, facing outwards.
What a snub.
Part of the reason is that 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 during the federal election last month – four in Manitoba, two in Alberta and none in Saskatchewan. This is an increase from the four MPs elected from the Prairies in the 2019 election (all from Manitoba). Yet even with just a half-dozen MPs to work with, Trudeau could have bolstered Prairie representation in cabinet – not just through more appointments, but with more prominent positions.
Manitoba Liberal MP Dan Vandal retains his post in Northern Affairs, but barely any longer (he becomes Head of Prairie Economic Development Canada). Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault of Edmonton has been given the junior tourism post. Both positions carry little weight around the cabinet table.
Vandal, who is of mixed race, was surely 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 like never before, than to appoint a knowledgeable and experienced Indigenous MP from the Prairies to this ministry?
Meanwhile, Jim Carr lost his cabinet post, Manitoba’s closest to a regional minister. There were other MPs who could take his place if needed, including Winnipeg South Liberal MP Terry Duguid, who has extensive public service experience and is a long-time loyal member of the party. It’s hard to imagine that Duguid’s career and degrees on environmental issues (most notably as a former chair of the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission and former executive director of the Manitoba Climate Change Task Force) would qualify him not for a ministerial post in a government that makes climate change one of its top priorities.
Plus, if Winnipeg North MP Kevin Lamoureux, who has represented Winnipeg’s provincial and federal ridings for more than three decades (including one of the most diverse ridings in Canada), is not prepared to provide to cabinet a prairie perspective, when does it?
There were options for Trudeau to bring more MPs from the Prairies into the cabinet and include a more geographically diverse set of voices. He chose not to.
In the past, Manitoba typically had a senior regional minister (former MPs Lloyd Axworthy, Vic Toews) and often another minister (former MPs Steven Fletcher, Shelly Glover for the Tories and Ron Duhamel or Rey Pagtakhan for the Liberals). The other two Prairie provinces would also be represented.
Very little happens in government without the attention and political will of individual ministers.
Cabinet appointments are not just symbolic acts. Very little happens in government without the attention and political will of individual ministers. General policy can emanate from the Prime Minister’s Office. However, unless a regional issue or priority is led by a cabinet member, it is unlikely to survive. It takes the relentless determination of ministers to move issues forward, especially those that are difficult to manage.
When the Prairies have almost no one around the Cabinet table, it is almost impossible to have their interests heard, especially when they compete with the priorities of other parts of the country.
Who will be there for Manitoba when issues like transfer payments, child care or international trade are debated? Beyond an MP with, at best, a mid-level cabinet post, no one.
Tom has covered Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 2019.
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