Western stew on PM’s new minority government cabinet menu

As he starts his second term as prime minister, Justin Trudeau does not dare betray the challenges ahead: national unity, climate change, trade problems, housing affordability in a couple of big cities, ours included.

Indeed, with his cabinet shuffle last week, he mostly whistles past them. His swagger of 2015 is not quite a stagger of 2019, but almost.

Take, for instance, dealing with alienation in Alberta and Saskatchewan, something we in British Columbia would be fools to ignore. Trudeau’s answer is not to appoint some sort of western king/queenpin, a kind of heir to the newly defeated Ralph Goodale. Instead, we get a Toronto MP, Chrystia Freeland, a transplanted Albertan, to be fair, to assuage the provinces, the most grievous of them on the Prairies, as intergovernmental minister and deputy prime minister. This is Trudeau’s way of saying he is a lightning rod that needs to be put away, and it is the signal Freeland may soon be the first former journalist since Joe Clark to be prime minister (we notice these things). Enter the Freeland brand.

But then we get quite the western stew in the prime minister’s recipe.

How else to explain the appointment of a natural resources minister from Newfoundland, Seamus O’Regan (another former journalist), with no business or energy background or experience out west?

What do we make of asking O’Regan’s predecessor, the defeated Albertan MP Jim Carr, to help with the western file, while battling blood cancer, as an adviser on Prairie matters but with no cabinet credentials any longer? These are your high--octane answers to Alberta’s Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, even to the discord in our province? Hmm.

Once we step into British Columbia, what’s with the yo-yo human resources management of Vancouver’s Joyce Murray, elevated to cabinet as treasury board president last spring, only to be deposited as one of the more aged MPs into a goofy portfolio as minister for “digital government”? Bring on the calls of “OK, boomer.”

Yes, it is heartening that Trudeau turned to Jonathan Wilkinson of North Vancouver as the environment and climate change minister. But as predecessor Catherine McKenna can attest, this post is both blessing (international profile) and curse (disgusting domestic criticism, in her case raw misogyny). Wilkinson will be in the role as the country reckons it cannot perform the magic trick of meeting climate commitments while fortifying our prosperity.

Speaking of goofy, magic tricks and prosperity, what about the array of adulterated and vague economic portfolios in this Team Trudeau 2.0?

Let’s start with the appointment that would have a business card as, no kidding, minister for middle-class prosperity. Tick the virtue-signalling box, one-upping the Ontario minister for red tape reduction.

There is a minister for workforce development. One for rural economic development, one for just plain economic development, one for infrastructure and communities.

One, as mentioned, for digital government (thankfully no minister for analog government).

Yes, still a minister of finance, a minister for small business, a treasury board president and one for innovation, science and industry. Throw in national resources and, if you wish, revenue, and you have a full Canadian Football League lineup. Get a program to identify the players in the arena.

Clever, though, in that in spreading the economic jam across a big slice of toast, Trudeau has ensured no one has clout. That rests with his office or with Freeland. His father once said opposition MPs were nobodies 50 yards off Parliament Hill; his bulbous delegation of economic ministers should feel the same way.

Unsurprisingly, the prime minister has missed a few spots. Who is focusing on fixing the housing mess in the cities? Whatever happened to the minister for trade diversification, needed more than ever? Is there a sports minister somewhere?

In his moment of greatest political need, Trudeau weakened his economic message by broadening the economic messengers. Chastened for behaviour before and during his first term, he ceded the important national conversations to his best asset in cabinet and started slowly walking out of the role.

Kirk LaPointe is editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, at Glacier Media.