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A ‘half-and-half’ new cabinet

My read on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet can best be summarized as half-and-half.

The first half of the equation – a sterling front bench of capable, qualified women, backed up by close confidantes and activists in key roles.

Chrystia Freeland at Finance remains Minister of Domestic and Fiscal.

Anita Anand and Melanie Joly land the biggest promotions, running Defence and Foreign Affairs.

Trudeau’s groomsman and get-the-job-done quiet performer Marc Miller at Crown-Indigenous Reconciliation makes sense; he’s calmly distinguished himself in that role’s sister portfolio.

The activist Stephen Guibeault at Environment and Climate Change signals Trudeau wants to, no ironic pun intended, step on the gas on that all-important file, with Guibeault backed up by Jonathan Wilkinson, sort of the pragmatist foil to the activist, at Natural Resources.

Through in the uber-competent Jean-Yves Duclos at Health and Dominic LeBlanc as guy in charge of getting the provinces and municipalities to build things – with Ahmad Hussein and Karina Gould taking housing and child care as back up – and that isn’t a bad front bench at all.

The other half, well, here things get a bit more curious with the junior ministers – some of whom were recently senior ministers, demoted almost out of the cabinet but not quite. One wonders why the PM chose to drop his astronaut foreign minister, but kept some others he was demoting to the margins of cabinet; why not a full cull if he was demoting them anyway?

Indeed, and at the risk of being indelicate, I had thought there might be a blatant eye towards succession planning. Team Trudeau has always favoured a sort of Gen X/elder Millennial vibe, so there are at least three survivors in this cabinet I expected might have been put out to pasture in favour of “fresh blood”, if for no other reason than to renew the cabinet with younger faces, an eye to the future of the party, and to keep the backbench happy. I suppose there was some of that; but the fact there was some of that makes it all the stranger when there wasn’t.

More broadly, the more junior ministers are curious. Many share their regional economic development office – not a bad idea per se, to make economic development more locally focused, but still a bit strange when the senior minister in the province might be the one inclined to make the big economic announcements in the first place – case most in point being having a Quebec lieutenant in charge of Heritage, but a Quebec minister responsible for economic development who’s main portfolio is Sport. Or a lonely Alberta minister tasked with economic development and specifically also for… tourism? The pattern breaks when Ontario gets a standalone economic development minister, and rural Canada gets a Minister for Rural Economic Development.

These aren’t criticisms so much as puzzling things out.

So, what does it all mean?

Some commentators have remarked that it shows Team Trudeau’s preference to dance with the ones that brung em; close friends and borderline clique.

I preferred Aaron Wherry’s notion that the cabinet is instead a team of teams: there’s the global affairs gang, the infrastructure crew, the climate change duo, the finance sisterhood, the health squad. It’s a cabinet of not only regional and gender balancing, but also of ministers teaming up to tackle intra-related aspects of cabinet. That is intriguing.

The next most intriguing thing? Figuring out who was left out of cabinet, and how they divvy up the remaining spoils in parliamentary secretary roles and caucus leadership – there’s still plenty of room at the almost-top, or perhaps, if you will, the middle class of government, and indeed there’s still plenty of MPs working hard to join it.

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