Two announcements by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week raise some interesting speculation.
The first is that a new federal cabinet will be installed on October 26.
The prime minister has once again promised gender parity in this, his third cabinet. I wonder though, if it will really be? It certainly wasn’t last time.
Although touted as that, while there were an equal number of women and men in Trudeau’s last cabinet, a close examination of portfolios reveal that there was not equity in responsibility. More women were assigned to less important, more junior cabinet roles than were men. There were some female stars in the cabinet but when it came to senior positions, the majority were men.
Real gender parity is not just about equality of numbers, but also about equality of responsibility. It will be interesting to see how the prime minister handles that this time around.
It will also be interesting to see who the prime minister will appoint as the next Minister of Defense. The current minister, Harjit Sajjan, a former military officer, has failed over six years in office to even come close to dealing effectively with a systemic strain of sexual misbehaviour within the Canadian Armed Forces.
During that time, senior officer after senior officer has either been removed or forced to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct and there have been numerous complaints of similar issues throughout the ranks. It is deeply embedded, it is a national embarrassment, and the lack of real action in dealing with the problem is an insult to the good women and men who have chosen to serve their country through military service.
While issues of culture and diversity may make it a difficult decision for the prime minister, the hard truth is that Harjit Sajjan has failed in an important part of his role as Defense Minister, and he must go.
Perhaps this is an appropriate time for the prime minister to appoint a woman to this now sensitive, cabinet position. Even more appropriate would be the appointment of a qualified woman within the military to become Chief of the Armed Forces. Perhaps then, between the two of them, we would see less talk and more action in dealing with this serious issue of abuse.
One cabinet position in the new mandate of the Trudeau government has already been announced, and that is Chrystia Freeland as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. No surprise there, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next year or two. Ms. Freeland has barely concealed ambitions to be the next prime minister of Canada and would be only the second woman to be so. There are many who believe that should happen.
But is this the beginning of the end for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau? Did he take that walk on the beach when he was in Tofino at the end of September to decide this was the time to begin succession planning? Or is he being pushed by Liberal insiders to make way for a new leader before the next election? The relationship between the prime minister and his deputy over the next many months will begin to shed the light on that, one way or the other.
The second announcement made by Prime Minister Trudeau this past week is that Parliament will be recalled on November 22. It’s about time. The election was September 20. And sadly, Parliament will only sit for a few weeks before another long recess.
As columnist Brian Lilley said, “We had a VERY important election, so that Parliament could do VERY important things. Which is why MPs won’t be in back in the Commons for another 5 weeks. This is at the direction of [Justin Trudeau], who doesn’t much like Parliament.”
Like it or not, the mandate received by the prime minister in the recent election included a clear direction that he must work with Parliament. We will see if he can do that, what alliances may be formed, and what work can actually get done. A minority Parliament is not a ‘my way or the highway’ institution.
And there is serious work that still needs to be done: igniting the economy, controlling debt, real action on environmental issues, protection of free speech, and clean water for all Indigenous communities in Canada, to name just a few.
If Parliament is to really work, the government must work with opposition parties to find a middle ground on key issues. On the other hand, opposition parties cannot be consistently obstructive. Minority government can work but there must be a willingness to do so, on all sides. No one wants another election for a very long time.
One good place to start with cooperation would be an all-party agreement on mandatory COVID vaccinations for all members of Parliament, or at least regular negative testing results for those who cannot be vaccinated or refuse to be so. Similar regulations are in place for federal workers, most hospital employees, and many other institutions. Why should Members of Parliament be treated any differently?
The ball to get this rolling, to get all of Parliament on the same page and to get them back in the House of Commons, seems to be in opposition leader Erin O’Toole’s court. Vaccine hesitancy is more prevalent in his caucus than in any other. He has an opportunity here. He can send a message to the few far-right zealots in his party that he is in charge. He can demonstrate that there are times when consensus in Parliament is important. He can also do what is right for Canada, and that is recognize and endorse the extraordinary scientific evidence that the only way to virtually eradicate the COVID-19 virus and its variants, as polio and smallpox have been, is through vaccination. That is the way out of this pandemic and its devastating consequences. To stand up and say so is true leadership.
We need more of that on all sides.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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