If it wishes to be successful, Trudeau 2.0 will have to move move much faster than Trudeau 1.0.
To accomplish the ambitious agenda encapsulated in the Liberal election platform — an agenda its parliamentary partners, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois, will push it on — Prime Minister Justin’s Trudeau’s new cabinet must slough off the often langorous, leisurely approach it took to governing when it had the luxury of time that is afforded to majority governments.
That majority proved decisive in legalizing recreational cannabis use and in giving terminally ill Canadians the right to a medically-assisted humane death. But in other ways, the majority of 2015 proved to be a curse of sorts.
There was little urgency in the government’s approach to many files. It preferred study to action, contemplation over industry, and — most annoying to its detractors — virtuous reflection over vigorous activity.
Things are different now, and the clock is ticking.
In a July 2018 interview with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, the first chief of staff to former prime minister Stephen Harper, Ian Brodie, made a wise observation: Time is the most precious gift any government will get. And, in Brodie’s estimation, Trudeau 1.0 squandered the time it had been given.
By way of contrast, Brodie remembered taking power in 2006, worried that the mighty Liberals — the country’s natural governing party — would quickly bounce back from their loss and send Harper’s party back to the opposition side of the House of Commons. Harper, of course, would go on to govern for nearly 10 years, but Brodie’s point was that in 2006-07, they governed as if they had 20 minutes left in office.
That urgency showed. Harper negotiated his way through his own agenda, often with the help of either or both BQ Leader Gilles Duceppe or NDP Leader Jack Layton. However it happened, stuff got done.
Now Trudeau must do the same, and the BQ and NDP will be similarly consequential to Trudeau getting stuff done.
The man of the moment for Trudeau will be Pablo Rodriguez, withdrawn from his previous role as Minister of Canadian Heritage to take over from Waterloo, Ont. MP Bardish Chagger as the Government House Leader. Rodriguez, who first served Trudeau as the caucus whip, is a Montreal MP, a veteran of earlier minority governments, and, by all accounts, ready to wheel and deal to move his government’s agenda through the House of Commons.
We do not yet know who most of his dance partners will be.
Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-François Blanchet has appointed Montreal-area MP Alain Therrien to be his house leader. Therrien, who spent six years in the National Assembly in Quebec City, arrives in Ottawa with a reputation as a no-nonsense parliamentarian who is a close ally of his leader, Blanchet. The Therrien-Rodriguez relationship will be one to watch.
Neither the Conservatives nor the NDP have yet named their house leader, waiting instead to let Trudeau make the first move.
And while Rodriguez must move swiftly to keep the Trudeau legislative agenda moving, other ministers will also find they have little room or reason for delay.
Hamilton, Ont.’s Filomena Tassi, for example, takes over the labour portfolio from Thunder Bay, Ont.’s Patty Hajdu and is immediately confronted by a strike at Canadian National Railways that not only threatens to take a bite out of the national economy, but could be devastating to Alberta, Saskatchewan, rural Manitoba and rural B.C. regions where the Trudeau Liberals were shut out on Oct. 21.
One Conservative MP said Tuesday that some of his constituents are calling his office in tears about the strike because they fear their harvest — their year’s income — will never make it to market.
Hajdu gets no break, though, in leaving Labour. She is now the health minister and has been tasked with re-writing that medically-assisted suicide law, a law that a Quebec judge earlier this year said was unconstitutional and ought to be broadened. The message from the judge was that only allowing the terminally ill to be able to choose to die with dignity was wrong. Canadians facing an illness that, while perhaps not terminal, promises decades of painful suffering must also be able to ask their doctor to help them die. Hajdu will have mere weeks to come up with something that will satisfy the Quebec court — and can get through the House of Commons.
When it comes to the economy, Trudeau has tapped two veterans from Trudeau 1.0 to quickly get money out the door to sustain the nation’s economy. Catherine McKenna has moved from environment to infrastructure where she will administer billions of dollars in federal funding that will help provinces and municipalities. Melanie Joly has returned from political purgatory to find herself in charge of Ottawa’s six regional economic development agencies, which must also once again prove their worth — and prove it quickly.
The big question mark for this government after Wednesday’s cabinet announcement is the expansion of the TransMountain pipeline. The responsibility for that project forward goes to the new Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan. (O’Regan takes over from Amarjeet Sohi who lost his seat in southeast Edmonton.)
O’Regan is a good friend of Trudeau’s. It was O’Regan and his partner who joined Trudeau and his family at the Aga Khan’s island in the Bahamas for that fateful and illegal vacation in 2016-2017. In his previous assignments as veterans affairs minister and as indigenous services minister, though, O’Regan did not distinguish himself. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would describe O’Regan as a star of Trudeau’s cabinet.
And yet, O’Regan, a Newfoundlander, has been given responsibility for one of the most important projects to the country, not to mention Western Canada. Trudeau, on Wednesday, said he has complete confidence in his friend.
So like O’Regan, many others in the Trudeau 2.0 cabinet will have to prove themselves. And prove themselves quickly.
— David Akin is the Chief Political Correspondent for Global News.