Last week, the Prime Minister’s Office revealed that Justin Trudeau would be naming his new cabinet on October 26, five full weeks after the federal election on September 20.
Since the news leaked to the media, political reporters, pundits and insiders from the Liberal Party have been inundated with intense speculation around “who will be in and out” of the prime minister’s inner circle on Tuesday.
The Cabinet Conjecture has long been Ottawa’s favorite political guessing game and one in which virtually anyone who has worked in and around partisan politics will courageously engage. But it is always worth underlining that those who really know the configuration of the new cabinet, no more than three or four senior advisers, are not speaking.
This cabinet mix is likely to be extensive and involve several moving parts. It’s not a mid-term fine-tuning, but more like a review. And the structure and composition of this cabinet should be viewed through the lens of legacy construction.
That’s because Trudeau is unlikely to seek a fourth term.
Prime Minister holdings in this country they rarely exceed the 10-year mark: By Pierre Trudeau long reign amounts to the rare exception to this rule. Trudeau Sr. ruled for almost 16 non-consecutive years.
In many respects, Trudeau Jr. finds himself in the position former Prime Minister Jean Chretien occupied after the 2000 federal elections. After forming a third consecutive majority government, it was well understood that Chretien would not seek a fourth term.
As a result, the cabinet that Chretien created in the weeks after the 2000 elections, and his political agenda during his last three years in power, were heavily influenced by his desire to build a legacy.
It was during this period that Chretien constantly moved his government to the center-left of the political spectrum, introducing legislation that would eventually legalize same-sex marriage, decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and enact the Kyoto Protocol.
Trudeau is probably thinking along similar lines these days, especially in light of his inability to regain a majority government last month. The prime minister should know that the next two or three years of this minority government, if it lasts that long, will be crucial in enacting important political reforms that will ultimately be part of his political legacy.
Diversity is incredibly important to this prime minister’s political brand, but it is equally central to his approach to governance.
Opinion: From east to west, here are the secondary MPs the prime minister will seriously consider as he seeks to inject new blood into his cabinet at the six-year mark of this government, writes @andrewaperez. #Cdnpoli
Trudeau genuinely believes that there is a direct correlation between the most diverse voices around the cabinet table and the policies that most effectively address the challenges that a cross-section of Canadians encounter in their daily lives.
As the prime minister and his top aides finalize their cabinet selection, they have a shame of riches to choose from the 160-member liberal caucus.
From east to west, here are the secondary MPs the prime minister will seriously consider as he seeks to inject new blood into his cabinet at the six-year mark of this government.
In Atlantic Canada, with the defeat of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Bernadette Jordan, Trudeau meets a cabinet minister. Watch for Jordan’s place to be replaced by his partner from Nova Scotia Lena Diab (West Halifax).
Diab is a rookie MP, but she arrives in Ottawa with impeccable government credentials: Diab has served as Chief Cabinet Minister in the Nova Scotia government since 2013, occupying the prominent role of Attorney General and Attorney General. Diab is also the daughter of first-generation Lebanese immigrants, a biographical note that surely does not escape this prime minister.
In rural Nova Scotia, Sean Fraser (Central Nova) could also be online for a promotion. A millennial, Fraser has ably served his riding since 2015. The veteran MP is smart, a talented communicator, and universally respected in Ottawa. Throughout the pandemic, Fraser served as parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, a role that was long seen as a stepping stone to the cabinet.
In Quebec, the secondary deputy most likely to join the executive ranks is the neophyte deputy. Pascale St-Onge (Brome-Missisquoi).
St-Onge’s electoral victory is as remarkable as his personal history. She won her Eastern Townships riding by only 186 votes thanks to mail ballots. A court tally did not confirm that the constituency was officially in the liberal fold until last week.
St-Onge is the former president of the Fédération nationale des communications et de la culture in Quebec, a union that works to address the economic challenges faced by both the media and cultural organizations.
If appointed a member of Trudeau’s cabinet, she would also be the openly gay prime minister, an opportunity the prime minister is unlikely to pass up, given how much she likes to have these kinds of news on her scorecard.
Other Quebec MPs who have the opportunity to enter the cabinet include MPs from the Gatineau area. Steven MacKinnon (Gatineau) and Greg fergus (Hull-Alymer). Both are perfectly bilingual veterans who served as former national directors of the Liberal Party.
In Canada’s most populous province, there will be intense maneuvering for cabinet positions. With 77 MPs to choose from, Trudeau and his mental confidence have no shortage of talent to consider.
Trudeau is said to be looking to appoint new Ontario MPs who come equipped with the expertise of the Queen’s Park provincial cabinet.
This places former Ontario ministers Yasir Naqvi (Downtown Ottawa), Marie-France Lalonde (Orleans), Helena jaczek (Markham-Stouffville) and Michael Coteau (Don Valley East) immediately under consideration. All four held high-level cabinet posts in Queen’s Park in the Wynne government.
And while Naqvi and Coteau are visible minorities, Trudeau seeks to honor their commitment to maintaining gender parity in the cabinet. As a result, the prospects for Lalonde and Jaczek appear strong, with the advantage for Lalonde, an effortless bilingual Franco-Ontario.
There are also four other Ontario MPs whose prospects are promising: Marci Ien (Downtown Toronto), Leah Taylor-Roy (Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill), Ruby sahota (Brampton North) and Arielle kayabaga (West London).
Ien and Kayabaga are black women with compelling personal stories. Ien was a successful CTV journalist before beating Green Party leader Annamie Paul in a Toronto byelection a year ago, and again in this year’s elections. She represents an incredibly diverse leadership that has traditionally enjoyed cabinet representation.
Kayabaga’s appointment makes sense for myriad reasons. She represents a swing that liberals must hold and tells a unique story: The 30-year-old came to Canada as an 11-year-old refugee after her family fled Burundi during that country’s civil war.
Kayabaga grew up in social housing and brings experience in government, having served as a London City Councilor since 2018. She is also a French-speaking who learned English as a child in Canadian public schools. Ultimately, Kayabaga’s appointment would fill a regional void, as southwestern Ontario has lacked cabinet representation since Trudeau came to power six years ago.
Taylor-Roy is a Harvard graduate armed with a gold-plated resume, having worked for the World Bank and the prestigious management consulting firm McKinsey and Company. Trudeau was heavily involved in her candidacy, visiting Taylor-Roy’s York region riding numerous times throughout the campaign as she fought and ultimately defeated the Conservative-turned-Liberal MP. Leona Alleslev.
Finally, the appointment of Sahota makes sense for several reasons. The Peel Region, a federal liberal stronghold, has been down a cabinet minister since former MP Navdeep Bains resigned from cabinet last January. Elected in the Liberal sweep of 2015, Sahota has been a solid district deputy, and is believed to be heavily regarded as Brampton’s new voice in Ottawa.
The Trudeau Liberals elected relatively few MPs in western Ontario, but restored representation in Alberta after being barred from that province in the 2019 elections. As a result, both Liberal MPs from that province are likely to be cabinet candidates.
Randy boissonnault (Edmonton Center) will enter the executive as chief minister. Check almost every box imaginable: a Rhodes scholar, a former MP with experience as a parliamentary secretary, openly gay, and a Franco-Albertan to boot. As a consequence, it is difficult to see how Boissonnault will not have tremendous influence in this government.
Finally, there is George chahal (Calgary Skyview), a popular former Calgary city councilor of Punjabi descent. Chahal was considered a safe bet for the Trudeau executive until the anti-corruption unit of the Calgary Police Service recently announced I was investigating him for doorbell camera video that appeared to show Chahal pulling a flyer for his opponent from a voter’s door on the eve of elections.
There are few certainties in politics, and the precise composition of the new cabinet is far from a certainty. But for those who have studied the political brand and government approach of this prime minister, it is clear that Trudeau’s next cabinet will have enormous consequences, both for his personal brand and for his ability to cement his political legacy during the next term.
If this cabinet collapses or nothing, it will have a material impact on Trudeau’s political success in the medium and long term. That alone will be fascinating to watch for years to come.
Andrew Perez is a Toronto-based public affairs professional whose work includes government relations. Over the past decade, he has worked in a variety of public and private sector settings advising senior leaders on communication strategies in their interactions with governments and the media. Pérez has volunteered for various political campaigns over the years for the federal and Ontario Liberal parties and remains politically active.
You can follow him on Twitter @andrewaperez.