Gender, regions to play major role in Cabinet

    It’s two weeks after the federal election and Justin Trudeau will soon announce his cabinet. There has been a great deal of speculation as to who will or won’t be included in this first big decision.
    According to Tom Bateman, political science professor at St. Thomas, part of what makes this decision so fascinating is we are unsure of how the Liberals will govern this time around.
    “He’s made some pretty bold promises which I don’t think he will be able to ignore on public policy questions,” said Bateman. “So how new, different and unconventional will he be?”
    Trudeau promised even before the writ dropped a Liberal cabinet would have an equal amount of women and men. Professor Patrick Malcolmson, author of The Canadian Regime, said we might be seeing a new convention in Canadian politics.
    “There’s a whole variety of things, I would say about ten different factors enter into what you’re looking to represent in a cabinet,” said Malcolmson.
    He said traditionally, the cabinet tries to represent Francophones, different ethnic groups and regionality. But this isn’t the first time Canada has seen gender parity in a cabinet. Premiers in Alberta and Quebec have formed 50/50 cabinets as well.
    Both Bateman and Malcolmson feel the new records set for most female and aboriginal MPs give the Liberals large pools of talent to choose from.
    Sara MacDonald, STU professor in the Great Books program with a PhD in political science, said she’s not so sure that having a cabinet that is 50 per cent women is necessary.
    “In the sense that the Liberal initiative encourages women to seriously consider running for election, I think it’s a good thing,” said MacDonald. “However… I’d want to ensure instead that cabinet ministers are the best qualified for the position, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, et cetera.”
    She pointed out someone’s gender or socio-demographic background doesn’t necessarily make them a voice for the entire population they are thought to represent. Malcolmson agrees and adds this especially true when it comes to party politics. MPs tend to accept their party’s ideologies over any others.
    “Of course one person can represent more than one kind of group,” said Bateman. “I think it’s going to be a judicious balancing act. The Liberal party is highly sensitive to these kinds of questions… no one is going to be left out.”
    Malcolmson likens choosing cabinet positions to arranging a rubik’s cube. Harjit Sajjan and Karen McCrimmon are both veteran military commanders and new MPs. Both also represent a different minority in parliament, so how do you choose between them? He said competence is the key factor.
    “Experience can often demonstrate competence, but there would be lots of people who are going to prove to be quite competent that don’t have experience,” said Malcolmson.
    He said Trudeau is the first Liberal prime minister with no experience in a cabinet and will have to rely on advice from previous Liberal prime ministers like Jean Chretien and Paul Martin.
    Petitions have called for Trudeau to appoint Elizabeth May as minister of the environment. Bateman feels this could anger many Liberals who reconstructed the party. Malcolmson agrees and said it would not be beneficial to May as she would not be able to critique the government as a cabinet minister.
    “[Instead] he could include MPs in different kinds of consultation processes,” said Bateman. “[Inviting opposition party leaders and premiers to the Climate Change Summit is] interesting because it’s inclusive and it’s a bit of a break from partisan rigidity.”
    Bateman and Malcolmson said there are a few candidates that tend to be shoo-ins. New Brunswick’s own Dominic LeBlanc and Alberta’s Ralph Goodale are good examples. Regionalism plays an important role and we can expect at least one MP from Calgary to hold a cabinet position. The region has elected two MPs in what is historically a Liberal shut-out.
    What we see on Nov. 4 is not necessarily the final decision. Cabinet ministers tend to shift and shuffle throughout a parliament. All we know, is that the Liberals have a big job ahead of them mixing experience, competency and novelty with gender and socio-demographic backgrounds.


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