Trudeau’s cabinet puts his new government on a more solid footing

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s second cabinet was sworn in Monday morning in a spectacularly elaborate ceremony that both celebrated and introduced the new government’s priorities. It’s a solid step forward for a government whose energy investment plans face stiff resistance in the Parliament building just down the street. But symbolism matters, and, in this case, the prime minister’s marquee moves are promising one way or another.

Trudeau showed the country that, as in his inaugural speech in October, he means to keep his promise to “try to listen more than speak.” External Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, a former finance minister, takes on the role of international trade minister. That gives her the government’s highest-profile profile in the relationship with the United States after such critical meetings of the G20 in November and December. Business Minister Navdeep Bains’ double-deliverable: reducing Canadian tariffs and maintaining free trade with the United States while avoiding bad-news initiatives that might scuttle negotiations.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna’s cabinet responsibility for “cutting red tape” is a popular one, especially in Quebec where “light regulation” is a term of derision. She’ll have to get serious, though, in the next few years as Ottawa faces a no-confidence motion in the House of Commons.

It’s entirely possible, though, that Trudeau will want to see some serious substance. After all, the government is completely paralyzed over its policies toward Trans Mountain pipeline, which the opposition Conservative Party put before the new House last Friday. This new cabinet has yet to demonstrate a willingness to toe the party line on trade. There’s a new Indian Affairs minister—David Lametti, a former teacher at a McGill University law school—whose entry at the senior level is a symbolic triumph. He’s the second McGill alumnus to hold the job (first elected in November 2016).

And Leona Aglukkaq, the former lawyer elected as the Nunavut elected premier last month, will presumably inherit the Indigenous Services portfolio that Freeland vacated Monday. Trudeau’s total rejection of the separation of Indigenous Affairs and Northern Affairs reminded us of a major policy difference between his administration and the one that preceded it.

But it will be months before we see whether this cabinet will be able to make even a dent in those two major policy gaps.

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