Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made several changes to his federal cabinet on Nov. 20, the shortage of ministers from Western Canada remains a glaring issue. Of 37 cabinet members, including Trudeau, only five are from constituencies west of Ontario.
Furthermore, Manitoba MP Dan Vandal, who was named minister of northern affairs, is the lone cabinet representative from the Prairies. That’s despite the Liberals having four seats in the province.
The rest of Trudeau’s western contingent includes Harjit Sajjan at national defence, Carla Qualtrough in employment, Jonathon Wilkinson in environment and Joyce Murray at digital government.
Altogether the Liberals have 17 MPs west of Ontario, with 11 in British Columbia, along with two more from the Northwest Territories and Yukon.
Jim Carr, a Manitoba MP who is battling cancer, was left out of cabinet this time around, but appointed as Trudeau’s special representative for the Prairies. That’s something of a consolation with Carr having Trudeau’s ear, but more western voices are needed to be around the cabinet table. In fact, other than Ontario and Quebec, B.C. is the only other province to have more than one cabinet minister.
With Trudeau in a minority situation, the next federal election may only be two years away, three if his Liberals are lucky. Needing to boost their western seat count, another Manitoba MP, a couple more from B.C. and perhaps one from the North could be helpful for the Liberals. However, the prime minister chose to do otherwise, which has become one immediate shortcoming for his fledgling second-term government.
Moving Chrystia Freeland from global affairs to intergovernmental affairs could be seen as somewhat patronizing. Freeland, who has Alberta roots, is to deal with the provinces on tough issues such as pipelines. That loose connection to the Prairies could blow up in Trudeau’s face, if Freeland can’t generate positive results as she did with other countries.
A more solid move was putting Seamus O’Regan into natural resources. Although O’Regan has a troubled past, both politically and personally, he is from oil-producing Newfoundland and Labrador. That could bode well in finding common ground with the Alberta and Saskatchewan governments.