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Trudeau's cabinet has gender equality and lacks certain white males

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Bill Blair, former Toronto police chief and expert on mass arrests, kettling and carding, is not in Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet.

Phew!

More surprising, Trudeau also left star, newly elected Liberal MP Andrew Leslie standing at the altar.

The speculators had pretty much anointed the former general as the new defence minister -- or something else equally big.

He got nothing.

It must mean something when the new Prime Minister excludes the two white males about whom there was such a hullabaloo when they agreed to run for the Liberals.

At the same time, Trudeau named the first Indigenous Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould from British Columbia, and the first northern Indigenous person to run Fisheries and Oceans, Hunter Tootoo.

As a first order of business, the new Fisheries Minister might want to take a hard look at the radical changes to the Fisheries Act the Harper government foisted on Canadians, stealthily, hidden in budget implementation omnibus legislation.

Virtually every living former fisheries minister, including a number of Conservatives, opposed those changes, which famously included removing most fish species from the protected list.

As for Wilson-Raybould, she will have many Aboriginal issues on her plate.

Those include a long list of stalled land claims negotiations, the response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the promised inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Wilson-Raybould will share those tasks with Carolyn Bennett, a Toronto doctor, veteran MP and the new Indigenous Affairs Minister.

Revisit Jason Kenney's refugee reforms

Bennett is one of two Liberal MPs who were assigned the portfolios for which they were the critics in opposition.

The other is John McCallum, who was the Liberal immigration critic, and is now Immigration Minister.

Both Bennett and McCallum have pressing files to deal with on day one.

In McCallum’s case there is the matter of those 25,000 Syrian refugees the new government wants to bring to Canada in less than two months.

One hopes the new Immigration Minister will also take a serious look at some of the unfair, nasty measures Harper’s Immigration Minister Jason Kenney enacted through his so-called refugee reform bill, C-31.

Chief among those is the creation of a two-tier refugee system via a list of “safe” countries of origin.

That list is completely arbitrary, and at the entire discretion of the minister.

When the Conservatives had only a minority, they brought in an earlier compromise refugee reform bill, with Liberal and New Democrat input.

That bill gave the authority to determine the safe country list to an independent panel of human rights experts, outside of partisan politics.

McCallum might now want to take that 2010 compromise legislation out of the bottom drawer.

Gender equity and a new emphasis on social policy

The new cabinet, as promised, has an equal number of women and men.

On the face of it, the new Prime Minister has not had to make compromises on competence to achieve that gender balance.

International lawyer Catherine McKenna at Environment and Climate Change, humanitarian doctor Jane Philpott at Health, former Manitoba NDP minister MaryAnn Mihychuk at the newly named ministry of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, and medical geographer Kirsty Duncan at the ministry of Science hardly look like folks who got their jobs through affirmative action.

Based on their CVs, they are all a far sight more qualified than the (mostly) men Stephen Harper put into those jobs.

The new Trudeau cabinet is smaller than Harper’s, who had allowed it to balloon to near-record size.

But it is not as small as was Kim Campbell’s, back in 1993.

It was Campbell who championed a reform that would mean a leaner and meaner government, bringing various security agencies together in one Public Security ministry and putting all the social programs, save health, into a single Human Resources and Social Development ministry.

With his emphasis on re-defining the Canadian social union -- as part of a radical budget cutting exercise that would see deep cuts in federal transfers to the provinces -- Jean Chrétien expanded the social development role, creating parallel policy and service delivery ministries, and re-created a separate labour ministry.

Not surprisingly, Harper gave extremely short shrift to social development and human resources.

On his watch, they were all bundled into a single Employment ministry.

While naming a smaller cabinet than Harper’s, Trudeau has notably added ministers in the social services and social policy area.

Now, instead of one Employment ministry we have both Mihychuk’s, which is a re-invention of the former Employment ministry, and the job Trudeau gave to Quebec economist Jean-Yves Duclos, the new role of Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.

The task of bringing in Trudeau’s priority number one, the so-called middle class tax cut, will primarily be Bill Morneau’s. He’s the media darling new Finance Minister, with the much touted solid Bay Street credentials.

Morneau might, however, want to consult his economist colleague at the new Families ministry on the middle class tax cut business.

That tax cut is supposed to help those with taxable incomes between $45,000 and $90,000, while raising the rate for those whose taxable incomes are greater than $200,000.

But here’s how it will really work.

All those with taxable income between $90,000 and $200,000 will also get a cut -- on the portion of their income up to $90,000.

In dollar terms, that means those with taxable incomes of $90,000 and higher will benefit more than those with lower incomes.

That seems like an unintended consequence. And it could be corrected if the government were to use the device of a tax credit rather than rate cut. The credit would only go to those with taxable incomes between $45,000 and $90,000.

Helping that middle class group is what the newly elected Prime Minister promised to do.

He did not promise to lower the taxes for six figure earners, which is what will happen -- however unintentional that may be -- if the new government carries out its current plan.

Dion at Foreign Affairs makes sense

As for the other veterans in the new cabinet, nobody will be surprised to see Ralph Goodale in Public Security, where he will have to quickly introduce major amendments to C-51, Harper’s so-called anti-terror law.

Few predicted Stéphane Dion would get Foreign Affairs, however.

In fact, many were lobbying for Dion to be named Environment Minister, a post he held in the previous Liberal government.

There may be method in Trudeau’s madness, however.

In naming Catherine McKenna to the environment job he gets a new face, not associated with past Liberal failures, to meet climate change targets. Dion, as Foreign Minister will still have a big role to play in the coming meeting in Paris, and in ongoing international climate change discussions. Dion also chairs the cabinet committee on environment, energy and climate change.

It was Jean Chrétien who brought Stéphane Dion into government, directly from academe, as Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs. Chrétien had been impressed with Dion’s rhetorical acumen in fearlessly taking on all separatist comers during the 1995 referendum.

Dion got deeply involved in international affairs during his time at Intergovernmental Affairs, in part through the Canadian-based international organization he more or less created, the Forum of Federations.

The Forum bills itself as an international network on federalism and decentralization. (Full disclosure: this writer worked for that organization during its early days, and continues to do occasional projects for it.)

The Harper government was mightily suspicious of the Forum when it took power, not only because the organization had been Dion’s baby, but, even worse, because Bob Rae had been its first Board Chair.

Not surprisingly, Harper cut the Forum’s core funding. It was one among his many petulant, partisan and ideologically motivated cuts.

But the Forum, under new, young and entrepreneurial leadership, has kept itself going, in part by broadening its international base of support.

In his new role, Dion may want to catch up with the Forum and see what it has been up to -- as he, and other members of the new cabinet renew the government’s connections to civil society more generally.

Is it too much to hope that the dark days of partisan and narrow ideological decision-making are finally behind us?

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