Brown shoes may not make it, but Justin Trudeau’s cabinet choices seem pretty sound

Share This Post

PHOTOS: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, members of his cabinet and ordinary Canadians walk toward the swearing-in ceremony yesterday morning at Government House in Ottawa. (Vancouver Observer photo.) Below: Mr. Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, making the same walk with members of his new cabinet down the same driveway in 1968. Below them: Alberta cabinet members Kent Hehr and Amarjeet Sohi, and Mr. Trudeau’s brown shoes.

Yesterday was a good day for Canadians, not just for the Liberal Party.

As a good friend of mine in Ottawa, a committed New Democrat, said telegraphically of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet, sworn in at Government House yesterday morning: “Partisanship aside, very positive.”

PTrudeau“I love my country far more than any political party or politician,” wrote another friend, New Democrat and AlbertaPolitics.ca contributor Mimi Williams, on her Facebook page. “This cabinet looks like hope. And I wish them well.”

Judging from what I’ve been reading on social media, a lot of progressive Canadians who are not necessarily Liberals – whether they come in orange, green or some other flavour – felt much the same way yesterday.

Well, you have to allow us some partisanship: What a relief to get up in the morning and know that by nightfall Stephen Harper would no longer be prime minister of Canada!

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, a New Democrat, had this to say in an official statement: “I know Alberta has benefited from having women equally represented around the cabinet table. I commend the prime minister on achieving gender balance in his cabinet.”

As for Mr. Trudeau, he had the very good fortune to be blessed with a talented caucus in sufficient numbers to let him to make 30 strong choices of the kind traditionally needed to build a successful cabinet in addition to the long-overdue requirement for gender equality.

HehrIn this, the way was paved and the political benchmark established by Premier Notley’s recent exercise in cabinet making, without which, I couldn’t help wondering yesterday, Mr. Trudeau might not have been under as much pressure to do as good job of achieving gender parity as he did.

Regardless of whomever deserves the most credit for this step forward, there is no going back. Any future premier or prime minister who chooses a traditionally male-dominated ministry had better have been left by voters with the excuse of an equally male-dominated caucus!

Thankfully, the talent pool in this Liberal caucus was deep enough to defuse the preemptive complaints of Conservative troglodytes like National Post columnist Andrew Coyne – who crankily argued cabinet choices should be “based on merit, not gender,” but made it sound as if he meant male and merit are roughly equivalent concepts.

So here’s to Ms. Notley and Mr. Trudeau for acting quickly to make Alberta and Canada better places, instead of just mouthing platitudes.

Now, of course, it must be acknowledged that many of us will soon be disappointed by the Trudeau Government. The knock that Canadian Liberals blink left and turn right is a fair one, with plenty of historical precedent. Still, the cabinet choices announced yesterday bespeak a desire by our new PM to do at least some important things in a progressive ways. Maybe many things.

In fairness, most voters are bound to be disappointed by any government of any stripe because politics is the art of the possible, and that means compromises must be made to survive.

SohiIndeed, part of Mr. Harper’s downfall on Oct. 19 was that he is a harsh right-wing ideologue who became increasingly unable or unwilling to make the compromises necessary to remain in power. You can call that a virtue or a flaw, but Mr. Trudeau at least has started his long walk on the right foot. Which is to say, of course, the left one.

And while we should all be prepared for disappointment, I remain optimistic about Mr. Trudeau for this, entirely theoretical, reason: I can’t shake the thought he would like to match, and perhaps exceed, his father’s legacy.

While not without flaws, Pierre Trudeau’s legacy is in important ways a positive and progressive one. He may have unnecessarily employed the War Measures Act in a crisis, and given us Zap, you’re frozen! as shorthand for a cynical change of course, but his greatest act was bestowing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on this country. This was a gift that benefits Canada to this day as a mechanism for confounding autocratic villains.

If my theory is right that Justin Trudeau wants to leave us with a similar legacy, perhaps his government really will follow through and reform our voting system in a way that makes Canada more democratic, and not just more prone to elect Liberal governments.

If Justin Trudeau manages this trick, history will overlook his flaws – whatever they turn out to be, for they obviously weren’t the ones the Harper Conservatives highlighted in their wretched attack advertisements – out of gratitude.

I can tell you his two Alberta cabinet choices are sound ones, although it’s a credit to his caucus that there were other good choices in a province that saw fit to send only four MPs from the governing party to Ottawa.

Kent Hehr, the Member of Parliament for Calgary Centre, once got in trouble with his own party for advocating co-operation between Liberals and New Democrats. “The centre/centre-left in this province will not form government until we are in one big tent party,” he wrote in a guest post in Dave Couronyer’s Daveberta.ca blog in 2012, not imagining, I suspect, that Ms. Notley would forge just such an alliance under an orange banner and he would benefit from the same crossover of orange and red voters to stamp his political passport to Ottawa.

SUIT-SHOES-JPGThe victim of a drive-by shooting that left him a paraplegic in 1991, Mr. Hehr was sworn in as minister of veterans affairs. He is the first Liberal cabinet member from Calgary since 1972, when the elder Mr. Trudeau was prime minister.

Amarjeet Sohi, MP for Edmonton Mill Woods, has been a respected and hardworking Edmonton city councillor since 2007, and cut his political teeth on progressive causes. He’s the only Alberta Liberal I can think of who never misses the Edmonton and District Labour Council’s annual Labour Day Picnic for the unemployed and under-employed.

Surely it is more than a coincidence that Mr. Sohi, Canada’s new infrastructure minister (and given Prime Minister Trudeau’s spending promises, potentially the most popular man in Canada as a result), and Notley Government Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason both got a start as unionized Edmonton bus drivers, a tough job that obviously teaches some of the diplomatic skills required for success in politics.

Finally, for me, after the divisive tone taken by the Conservatives in the recent campaign it was hard not to be moved to hear the emotion in the voice of Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef, who was welcomed to Canada as an 11-year-old refugee from Afghanistan by way of Iran in 1996. Perhaps now we can get back to being a welcoming country again.

If there was a discordant note today, it was only this: Our new prime minister wore brown shoes with a blue suit!

Perhaps it’s a generational thing that reveals me to be as out of touch and out of sync as Mr. Coyne, but both my Mama and Frank Zappa taught the same lesson, in slightly different words: “Brown shoes don’t make it!” (Frank.) Especially with a blue suit. (Mom.)

But that’s going to be a heck of a lot easier for Mr. Trudeau to fix than some of the messes his predecessor left behind!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Categories Alberta Politics Canadian Politics