November 13, 2015 5:55 pm

Ministers’ marching orders: highlights from cabinet job descriptions

Canada's new justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, has a lot on her plate.

Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave his cabinet its marching orders on Friday afternoon, posting the ministerial mandate letters on his official website.

Posting these letters online is an unusual step: The Harper government never made its mandate letters public.

So what’s on the ministerial to-do lists?

Most will come as no surprise: These priorities were in the Liberal platform.

But a few extra details give a sense of the new government’s priorities.

We picked some of the most interesting tidbits; the rest, for your perusal, are here.

Hunter Tootoo – Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

  • Work with the Ministers of Transport, Natural Resources and Environment and Climate Change to formalize the moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on British Columbia’s North Coast, including the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound.

This makes good on Trudeau’s election promise to kibosh the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.

Jody Wilson-Raybould – Justice and Attorney General of Canada

  • Lead a process, supported by the Minister of Health, to work with province and territories to respond to the Supreme Court of Canada decision regarding physician-assisted death.

This requires quick action: After Feb. 6, 2016, the part of Canada’s Criminal Code making physician-assisted death illegal will become null and void. The government hasn’t said whether it will ask for an extension on the Supreme Court’s deadline. Regardless, this pending legal change is arguably the first thing on Wilson-Raybould’s very full plate.

Some others:

  • Develop inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.
  • Review government’s litigation strategy, including “early decisions to end appeals or positions that are not consistent with our commitments, the Charter or our values.”
  • Review the changes in our criminal justice system and sentencing reforms over the past decade

That first was a key promise of the Liberals; during the campaign Trudeau vowed to kick off an inquiry within his first 100 days.

The other two are mandates to review the Harper government’s various legal decisions – including mandatory minimum sentences – and possibly reverse them.

Some of the appeals the Liberals might choose to drop are here.

  • Create a federal-provincial-territorial process that would lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana.
  • Introduce government legislation to add gender identity as a prohibited ground for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

These were election promises, but certainly worth noting.

Carolyn Bennett – Indigenous and Northern Affairs

  • Implement recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, starting with the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

It’s a long declaration, one Canada actually originally voted against in 2007.

Yves Duclos – Families, Children and Social Development

  • Lead the development of a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy

We’ve been here before: The House of Commons voted in 1989 to eradicate child poverty by the year 2000. That didn’t happen: child poverty rates remain largely unchanged. What does this poverty look like? Global’s 16×9 covered the issue in depth in its report “Generation Poor.”

Bill Morneau – Finance

  • Phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry over the medium-term

A recent report from an environmental group suggested that Canada’s subsidies were about $3.6 billion in 2013-14. What does “medium” term mean? We’ve yet to find out.

  • Repeal the Federal Balanced Budget Act

Necessary: The government plans to run deficits. Morneau also has the mandate to balance the budget by 2019-20, though.


Those are some of the highlights, but what’s missing? Some notable omissions in these letters:

  • Details on Liberals’ refugee promise

There are repeated references to the government’s commitment to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada. But the mandate letters don’t clarify when, exactly, this will happen – just “in the coming months.” The Liberals had promised by the end of 2015. That’s about seven weeks from now.

  • A commitment to repealing the Conservative law on sex work

The government likely faces a legal challenge if it doesn’t repeal the law.

  • A plan to repeal the Conservatives’ law erecting barriers to additional supervised injection sites

Trudeau has in the past declared his support for supervised injection sites across Canada. But none of these mandate letters mentions Bill C-2, which made it much more difficult for cities to develop Insites of their own.

With files from Anna Mehler Paperny

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