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Trudeau’s New Cabinet: What Comes Next?

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed his cabinet choices. What happens next?

Of Trudeau’s 38 ministers, 31 have been handed new departmental assignments. All ministers will pore over briefing books to become familiar with the ins and outs of issues and updates while officials present their transition books based on the dozens of policy commitments in the Liberal platform.

Key ministers will be focused on the government’s major political commitments: dealing with the pandemic, climate change, child care, home ownership and reconciliation with First Nations. Implementation plans will be made by the prime minister’s office in collaboration with privy council office officials to proceed apace with the Liberals’ ambitious agenda for the first hundred days of parliament.

This agenda includes amendments to the Broadcasting Act, legislation dealing within online harms; several measures to deal with the pandemic including vaccinations for public servants, proof of vaccinations for air and train passengers, criminalizing the harassment of healthcare workers, vaccine passports for international travel; and policies around affordable housing.

With the clock ticking towards the 2022 federal budget next spring, the next few months will be busy ones in the nation’s capital.

You can find the entire list of federal cabinet here.

Here is a look at our view of some of the top issues they face and are prioritizing.

Infrastructure and Intergovernmental Affairs

Dominic Leblanc is the new minister of intergovernmental affairs, infrastructure and communities. Leblanc is among the closest, most trusted ministers to the Prime Minister, and is likewise among the most experienced. His appointment to this position indicates that infrastructure spending remains a major priority for the government, through his department and through the Canada Infrastructure Bank. His dual roles also indicate that the Prime Minister trusts Leblanc to lead tough negotiations on some major and controversial provincial infrastructure projects like the Scarborough subway extension, Vancouver’s Canada Line extension, and Quebec City’s proposed third link tunnel. As the representative of the rural riding Beauséjour in southeastern New Brunswick, he will come to the file with a good understanding of infrastructure needs outside of major urban centres.

Environment and Energy

After a summer of record heat, fires, and drought, there is no question the adverse effects of climate change are now all too real for Canadians. With the appointment of Steven Guilbeault, a bone fide climate activist and now minister of the environment, no one can doubt the government is ready to take a more aggressive stance on climate policy. This position, however, may be at odds with the reality that oil, gas, and other carbon intensive industries are still critical to our economy. It will be particularly interesting to see how well he coordinates with his predecessor in the environment portfolio, and the new natural resources minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, as a result. Front of mind will be questions on the next steps in carbon pricing, how to become more aggressive on methane reduction while allowing our energy companies to transition, how government should spur more ESG action from companies, and how government continues to support new decarbonization technologies for the energy industry.

Defence

Defence is a sprawling, sometimes unwieldy mix of challenging international issues, shifting alliances and difficult procurements at the best of times. These are not the best of times. The Prime Minister’s pick of Anita Anand for national defence speaks volumes on the challenges facing the government. Anand is smart, competent and earned abundant applause for her vaccine procurement work leading the usually problematic public services and procurement ministry as a first-time minister and MP.

The reputation of the armed forces has been damaged in part by the insufficient response of former defence minister Harjit Sajjan towards sexual misconduct in the workplace. While complex military procurements are on the radar, her first job will be to begin to restore confidence in the military and start the long work to change the culture. While we expect that to get immediate political and policy attention, it will take years to achieve.

Housing

The Prime Minister’s creation of a housing, diversity and inclusion portfolio underscores the Liberals’ heavy emphasis on housing during the campaign. Cooling the housing market, an issue increasingly on all voters’ minds as prices rise and supply dwindles, will be an important political gain this government needs for its next election. Ahmed Hussen, former minister of families, children, and social development, has been working on the housing file since 2019 – a portfolio that despite the new name will continue to be steered by his expertise in issues of equality and justice as a former lawyer and public servant.

Policy pieces to anticipate include government intervention on speculation, house flipping, and supply constraints, as well as mortgage rates and a doubling of the first-time home buyers tax credit.

Heritage

Canadian Heritage is a ministry that rarely makes headlines, especially outside of Quebec. However, with several prominent bills on the agenda, that could soon change. Two key priorities for the Liberal government – a bill to include regulating online streaming services in a revamped Broadcast Act and another to combat online harms – will likely move through heritage alongside policies on copyright law and cultural industry supports after Covid-19.

That’s likely why Pablo Rodriguez was tapped to return to the heritage ministry. His return to heritage indicates the Prime Minister wants an experienced hand on files sure to capture attention and prompt debate about freedom of speech and access to content, much like C-10 in the last legislative session. As Quebec lieutenant, Rodriguez has demonstrated his political savviness and has a strong sense of what plays well in la belle province – an important skill given that navigating internet regulation will be extremely tricky.

Finance

In an unusual move, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Chrystia Freeland would be returning as deputy prime minister and minister of finance, weeks before Tuesday’s cabinet announcement. The first woman to hold the role, Freeland has had the arduous task of leading Canada’s economy through the pandemic. Her first budget – the first since before the pandemic – set out nearly $650 billion in spending, with a record deficit of $354 billion.

Trudeau’s early announcement sent a clear signal to Canadians – most notably, the Premiers: when it comes to Canada’s economy, Freeland calls the shots. An especially challenging task ahead of her will be to get those provinces still straggling on childcare agreements for the Liberals’ $10 a day childcare (including Ontario) to sign on the dotted line.

At the same time, the need for massive spending to support Canadians through the pandemic has, as for all of our G20 partners, had a huge impact on the balance sheet. Inflation has become an issue again, and families and businesses are starting to feel the impact on their expenses. While the new government has promised even more spending to remake the economy post-pandemic, the financial sector and bond raters will be watching. Freeland has the task of guiding this balancing act.



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