Do Climate Policy and Quebec Lay the Groundwork for Liberal Path to a Majority Government?
Canada’s first prime minister once signed his occupation in a hotel ledger as “Cabinet-Maker.” While John A. Macdonald was a noted humourist, the selection of Cabinet is important and revealing. Justin Trudeau’s goals and priorities for his third mandate can be measured as much from his Cabinet choices as from the Liberal platform. The Liberal cabinet announcement continues to be against the backdrop of a minority government and with a similar Parliamentary composition as the previous pre-election Parliament. The message from Canadians from September’s election was “go back and make this work.”
This is a Cabinet designed to implement an agenda in line not only with the Liberal platform, but one that is generally aligned with the platforms of other left-of-centre parties in the House of Commons, providing stability for Justin Trudeau’s second minority Parliament. The New Democrats, Bloc Quebecois and Green Party caucuses may want to go farther and faster on certain issues, but increasingly there are fewer sharp differences on policy between these parties.
Shortly after the election, Prime Minister Trudeau also quickly reappointed Chrystia Freeland as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance to make it clear that Freeland is the government’s “second-in-command.” Freeland’s influence has only been cemented further and she will continue to play a key role as trusted lieutenant to the Prime Minister on virtually all major files.
The government’s priority policy planks are clearly sketched out with today’s ministerial choices and are most evident with the selection of former climate activist Steven Guilbeault as Minister of Environment and Climate Change. With former Environment Minister and green tech executive Jonathan Wilkinson moving to Natural Resources, this “Double Green” approach could signal a bad cop/good cop approach to environmental policy and transformation. The COP26 international climate change conference is only days away, with these two choices the Liberals are signaling even greater ambitions on climate action.
Under Prime Minister Trudeau, the Liberals have also stated that the relationship between government and Indigenous Canadians is a key priority for the government. Mohawk-speaking Marc Miller, who previously served as Minister of Indigenous Services, has now been elevated to take on the thornier Crown-Indigenous Relations portfolio. Former Health Minister, Patty Hajdu, is taking Miller’s place at Indigenous Services – a ministry with a heavy focus on tangible service delivery, including healthcare for on and off-reserve Indigenous Canadians.
After seven years without explicit political responsibilities for regions, the government attached a minister to each of Canada’s regional economic development agencies. This signals a greater emphasis on local political leadership (and funding) to better manage regional and political issues like those that defeated Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan.
While Trudeau’s first Cabinet had limited experience from Quebec on the front-bench, Quebec-based ministers did well in this shuffle with Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, and Stephen Guilbeault at Environment signal a high-profile team of francophone Quebecers. It is clear from these promotions that the Liberals under Trudeau continue to see the long-term path to a majority government through the suburbs around Montreal, while holding the GTA core and suburbs, and growing their base in Greater Vancouver.
The pandemic was as exhausting for Cabinet as for everyone else. In March of 2020, the Ministers at the front of the crisis were Bill Morneau at Finance, Patty Hajdu at Health, Marc Garneau at Transport, Anita Anand at Procurement, Bill Blair at Public Safety and Chrystia Freeland at Intergovernmental Affairs. The government clearly thought it was time to switch ministers at all these ministries as we head into the endemic. Not one of these Ministers remains in the same portfolio today.
You can view all Cabinet Members of the 44th Parliament, their portfolios, and their bios here.
After the 2019 election, the Trudeau government was left without seats in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Nunavut. This meant the Liberals needed to appoint regional ministers who could bring forward regional concerns to the Cabinet table. We note the continuous importance of regional representation and influence for the Trudeau government with specific ministers taking responsibility for local Economic Development Agencies.
New ministers include: Dan Vandal at the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and Ginette Petitpas Taylor at the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. Other ministers who now lead regional Economic Development Agencies include Harjit Sajjan, Patty Hajdu, Mary Ng, Helena Jaczek and newly elected Pascale St-Onge.
Ministers from British Columbia also signal the importance of the province to Liberal electoral victory with the appointment of Joyce Murray as Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and the appointment of Jonathan Wilkinson as Minister of Natural Resources. They will be key partners to Minister Guilbeault at Environment. Other key ministers from British Columbia include Carla Qualtrough at Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion and Harjit Sajjan at International Development.
As mentioned above, the Prime Minister increased his Quebec presence in cabinet. In addition to his role as Minister of Canadian Heritage, Pablo Rodriguez stays as the Prime Minister’s Quebec Lieutenant. Another strategic decision was to name Jean-Yves Duclos as Minister of Health. During the 2021 election, the Liberals did not shy away from promising better healthcare for all, even if it meant stepping on provincial jurisdiction, Duclos will play a key role in delivering this commitment. Provinces, especially Quebec, have also been very vocal about increasing the Canada Health Transfer it will be interesting to see how Duclos handles this issue. Other key ministers from Québec include Melanie Joly, Steven Guilbeault, François-Philippe Champagne, David Lametti and Marc Miller.
By appointing Gudie Hutchings as Minister of Rural Economic Development and Sean Fraser as Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Atlantic Canada has gained an extra two seats at the Cabinet table. Another key appointment for the Atlantic was the nomination of Dominic LeBlanc as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities. Bringing together Intergovernmental Affairs and Infrastructure recognizes that cooperation with the provinces is essential to getting projects built. LeBlanc is known to be one of Trudeau’s closest lieutenants and has the reputation for making decisions.
In the 2021 election, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) helped deliver a Liberal win. The Prime Minister reflected this result with the appointment and promotion of twelve GTA Ministers including Chrystia Freeland, Marcy Ien, Carolyn Bennett, Anita Anand, Mary Ng, Ahmed Hussen, Kamal Khera, Omar Alghabra, Marco Mendicino, Mark Holland, Helena Jaczek, and Bill Blair.
Climate Change and Energy – More on Guilbeault and Wilkinson
Climate action was the issue that was likely most responsible for the Liberal return to government. It highlighted the policy differences between the Liberals and the Conservatives thus drawing in swing NDP and Green voters.
Changing ministers at environment and natural resources (as well as the introduction of a new Minister of Emergency Preparedness, which will presumably encompass some climate adaptation work), signals an acceleration of the Liberal climate agenda and hints at a forthcoming plan on transitioning Canada’s hydrocarbon industry.
In a nod to both climate action and the desire to pick up seats in the province of Quebec, Steven Guilbeault was been named the new Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). From the Montreal riding of Laurier–Sainte-Marie, he takes on the role following his previous posting as Heritage Minister. Guilbeault is a long-time environmental activist who has worked with groups such as Equiterre and Greenpeace. Given his stated opposition to pipelines, his appointment will be viewed with alarm by many in emissions-intensive industries in the Prairies as a sign the government is seeking to accelerate an eventual transition away from hydrocarbon extraction. With a key commitment in the Liberal election platform to implement a sweeping Clean Electricity Standard, along with many other climate initiatives, Guilbeault’s performance at ECCC will be critical to the Liberal’s climate agenda.
From the riding of North Vancouver, Jonathan Wilkinson is the new Minister of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). He takes on the role after what is widely regarded as a highly effective run as Minister of ECCC, most recently leading Canada’s efforts leading up to COP26. Wilkinson’s appointment can be read as the Prime Minister moving a top performer with solid environmental credentials and positive relationships to help be a bridge between Guilbeault at ECCC and the energy sector. With new emissions-reduction targets for the oil and gas sector announced in the recent election platform, expect this Minister to prioritize hashing out the details of a “just transition” plan with stakeholders – a negotiation that not only has impacts for the sector, but also the issues of national unity and western alienation.
The Challenge of a Minority Parliament
Once again, the Liberals begin a new Parliament in a minority situation. As in the last Parliament, the Liberals will continue to require the support of at least one other party in the House of Commons to pass legislation.
Given public fatigue with endless election cycles and the risk to both the Liberal Party and to opposition parties of another election any time soon, this Parliament should remain stable for the next 18-24 months. It is unlikely that the Liberals will once again call an election without being defeated in Parliament, as this was seen as a weakness in their strategy during the 2021 election. While there will be matters of confidence that come before the House of Commons before the holiday break, including money bills, we expect that in the short term, the Liberal minority government should be fine.
However, the tone of this Parliament will be different because the threat of an election is off the table for all parties but especially for the Liberals. In this situation, the NDP and the Bloc may feel increasingly emboldened to request additional concessions given public fatigue for calling yet another election.
Once again, political watchers will be closely monitoring the activities of the Government House Leader and Chief Government Whip. The Government House Leader is responsible for managing the day-to-day agenda and negotiating with the other parties to ensure the government’s legislation moves forward. The Chief Government Whip is responsible for ensuring voting discipline which means having enough MPs in the Commons to reliably win votes.
Today’s promotion of Mark Holland from Chief Government Whip to House Leader signals continuity in approach as well as trust in Holland’s ability to manage the government’s legislative agenda. A new Chief Government Whip has not yet been named but will most likely be a francophone MP to maintain language balance.
In the last Parliament, the Conservatives, working with other opposition parties (and sometimes government backbenchers), were able to leverage the minority situation to their advantage to pass private members’ bills on bereavement leave, organ donation, and family succession planning. The opportunity for an MP to present a private members’ bill is determined through a lottery system and the current order is not yet known. However, if these slots are allocated earlier to opposition MPs, expect additional activity in this area as the opposition seeks to demonstrate its ability to get legislation passed.
Conservatives were also able to cause a lot of trouble for the Liberals by working with other opposition parties and use their combined House majority to force the government to deal with matters such as the WE Charity issue, Canada’s relationship with China, the production of documents related to Canada’s National Microbiology lab, issues around sexual harassment and assault in the Canadian military, and others. Expect that Conservatives will use their role as the Official Opposition to try and do the same in this Parliament.
In the last Parliament, the Senate was able to flex its legislative muscle by delaying critical elements of the government’s legislative agenda, such as the Liberal proposal to ban conversion therapy. In this Parliament, the Senate should be monitored closely as it is expected to continue to operate independently from the House of Commons. This could create further challenges for the Liberals as they seek to quickly pass legislation.
StrategyCorp has deep understanding and experience working with minority governments, and we look forward to continuing to provide successful strategies and outcomes for our clients in the 44th Parliament.
List of Ministers
|Justin Trudeau||Prime Minister||QC|
|Chrystia Freeland||Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance||ON|
|Mélanie Joly||Foreign Affairs||QC|
|Dominic Leblanc||Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities||NB|
|David Lametti||Justice and Attorney General||QC|
|Anita Anand||National Defence||ON|
|Steven Guilbeault||Environment and Climate Change||QC|
|Jonathan Wilkinson||Natural Resources||BC|
|Marco Mendicino||Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness||ON|
|Pablo Rodriguez||Canadian Heritage and Quebec Lieutenant||QC|
|Mona Fortier||President of the Treasury Board||ON|
|François-Philippe Champagne||Innovation, Science and Industry||QC|
|Carolyn Bennett||Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health||ON|
|Mary Ng||Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade||ON|
|Ginette Petitpas Taylor||Official Languages and Minister responsible for Atlantic Canada Opportunities||NB|
|Marc Miller||Crown-Indigenous Relations||QC|
|Patty Hajdu||Indigenous Services and Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario||ON|
|Filomena Tassi||Public Services and Procurement||ON|
|Carla Qualtrough||Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion||BC|
|Ahmed Hussen||Housing and Diversity and Inclusion||ON|
|Sean Fraser||Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship||NS|
|Karina Gould||Families, Children and Social Development||ON|
|Lawrence MacAulay||Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence||PE|
|Marie-Claude Bibeau||Agriculture and Agri-Food||QC|
|Joyce Murray||Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard||BC|
|Harjit Sajjan||International Development and Minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada||BC|
|Bill Blair||President of the Queen’s Privy Council and Minister of Emergency Preparedness||ON|
|Diane Lebouthillier||National Revenue||QC|
|Dan Vandal||Northern Affairs and Minister responsible for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency||MB|
|Marci Ien||Women, Gender Equality and Youth||ON|
|Randy Boissonnault||Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance||AB|
|Helena Jaczek||Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario||ON|
|Mark Holland||Leader of the Government in the House of Commons||ON|
|Gudie Hutchings||Rural Economic Development||NL|
|Pascale St-Onge||Sport and Minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec||QC|
Breaking Down the Numbers:
- Total Ministers: 38
- Gender parity: 19 women and 19 men
- Provincial representation:
- Ontario – 16
- Quebec – 10
- British Columbia – 4
- Alberta – 1
- Manitoba – 1
- Atlantic – 6
Note: Breakdowns do not incTrlude the Prime Minister