Wednesday, November 4, 2015

What’s in a name? Cabinet positions and name changes show which ministries will deliver on Liberals’ priority areas

Published for the Prince Arthur Herald

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet have been sworn in. Ahead of this Prime Minister and these new ministers are weeks of departmental briefings on their current statuses, which areas will need the personal attention of the minister to get things done, and how the department plans to implement the new government’s vision.

Trudeau promised a leaner cabinet, which meant some ministries were on the chopping block to be eliminated, or, more likely, amalgamated with another ministry or group of ministries. Just as interesting as who was named is what those new cabinet ministers’ titles are, since it demonstrates the Liberal government’s likely priority areas for the coming weeks and months.

Cabinet titles changed:
·         Minister of the Environment becomes Minister of the Environment and Climate Change
·         Minister of Citizenship and Immigration becomes Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship.
·         Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (which only recently saw its title changed from Indian Affairs) is now the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
·         Minister of Democratic Reform is now Minister of Democratic Institutions.
·         Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is now Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.
·         Minister of Public Works and Government Services is now Minister of Public Services.
·         Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development is now Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development as well as another Minister of Employment Workforce Development and Labour.

Cabinet positions removed:
·         There is no Minister for Official Languages. This position was formerly held by Conservative Minister Shelly Glover.
·         There is no Minister for Multiculturalism. This position was formerly held by Conservative Minister Jason Kenney.
·         There is no Minister of Industry. This position was formerly held by Conservative Minister James Moore.
·         There is no Minister of Western Economic Diversification. This position was formerly held by Conservative Minister Michelle Rempel.
·         There no longer appear to be any regional Economic Development Agencies.

Other items worth noting:
·         There appear to be two science ministers, with one (Kirsty Duncan) being named as the Minister of Science and another (Navdeep Bains) being named as the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development.
·         No Leader of the Government in the Senate was named in today’s cabinet. Senate Liberals have already publicly complained that without a Senate Leader, the Senate would rudderless. The Senate Leader helps usher legislation through the Senate.

There is plenty of analysis that can (and will) go into what these name changes mean for Canada’s federal government. Much more can be read into the positions than what they literally mean: ministers’ titles at the highest level of government also demonstrate the government’s core priorities and focuses in those ministries.

One of the most obvious shifts is away from the Minister of Democratic Reform to Minister of Democratic Institutions. Reform was focused on, well, reform – changing the system and structures of democracy. The new Minister will be focused on those systems and structures – not necessarily changing them. That’s an important difference.

Another is the addition of “refugees” to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration’s title. Of course, refugees already were being processed by the immigration department, so there is no change to what the department is doing. But it is an important distinction to make, especially since the Alan Kurdi tragedy made Canada’s refugee system a major topic of the election campaign. As well, numerous former senior immigration officials and non-profit immigration NGOs have called the Liberals’ pledge to accept 25,000 refugees “problematic.” The new minster has been given “refugees” in his title to politely remind him that fulfilling this promise will be one of his first and most important priorities.

Adding the Coast Guard to the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans is nothing new, since it already falls under that same ministry. However, it may show that the Coast Guard will be a particular focus for the new government, perhaps in a new sovereignty role in Northern Canada. To demonstrate a “new” focus on environmental protection, they may also be given additional powers to enforce environmental regulations along Canada’s coasts.

Likewise, naming a Minister of the Environment and Climate Change is redundant – I doubt anyone would question which ministry should tackle climate change if not the environment ministry – but it shows that the Liberal government is placing a particular emphasis on addressing climate change. This is especially important since Prime Minister Trudeau and his new Environment and Climate Change Minister will spend most of the next month abroad discussing international climate change treaties and the role each country will play.

But a smaller cabinet also comes at the cost of giving each minister more responsibilities. For example, the Conservatives had a Minister of Labour (Kellie Leitch) as well as a Minister for Human Resources and Skills Development (Pierre Poilievre). (Poilievre’s position was formerly titled Social Development until it was re-named Skills Development in 2013, and a junior minister – Candice Bergen – became responsible to Poilievre for Social Development.) The Liberals have a Minister of Employment Workforce Development and Labour as well as a Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development.

It seems fairly obvious that the latter will be responsible for implementing Trudeau’s new “tax reductions” for “middle-class” families. What is less obvious is how the old ministries will be divided between these new responsibilities. For example, the Liberals’ changes dilute the relative power of the “labour” part of the portfolio: labour issues will only be one of this minister’s responsibilities, as she also works to “develop” the “employment workforce.” As well, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development was in charge of Service Canada, but with the Liberals naming a “Public Services” Minister, to whom will Service Canada report? This might seem like a minor question at first, but the diverse differences between services to the public (Service Canada) versus the provision of internal government services (Public Works and Government Services Canada) would be difficult for one minister to oversee.

Finally is the uncertain future of the regional Economic Development Agencies. These six agencies gave federal representation to Canada’s regions – Atlantic, Quebec, Northern Canada, Southern Ontario, Northern Ontario, and the West – each with a junior minister. These ministers were responsible for the representation and development of these regions, which usually meant federal infrastructure money. Without these ministers, will it fall to regional ministers with other portfolios to lobby for their provinces? And where will their staff go?

Part of the answer may lie in the weeks ahead. It is possible that some new sub-departments may be created, and this is where some other senior government positions may be announced. Each of these new ministers will require a Parliamentary Secretary (or a Secretary of State if Trudeau returns to the Chretien-era titles) to assist their minister with responsibilities in the House of Commons. Under Harper, they were often also given departmental responsibilities for a Crown corporation or strategic part of that ministry (for example, Jeff Watson being responsible for Canada Post). These positions are also important to watch, since some of the former cabinet positions may creep back in as junior portfolios.

Canada is still likely a few weeks away from a Speech from the Throne, where the Governor General will formally read out the Trudeau government’s priorities. But if you’re looking for an early hint, you can start with these new cabinet titles.