Changing of the guard: Canada’s new government takes office

At 10:30 am on November 4, surrounded by a lot of hoopla, Justin Trudeau was sworn in as Canada’s 23rd prime minister. Prior to that, Stephen Harper tendered his formal resignation to the Governor General in a private meeting.

The cabinet is comprised of 31 members including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who is also Minister for Youth and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. It is comprised of 15 women and 16 men. The average age is 52, with ages ranging from 30 to 69.

Eleven of the ministers come from Ontario, seven from Quebec (including Trudeau), three from BC, two from Alberta, two from Manitoba, and one each from Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, PEI, and Nunavut. There is no one from Yukon and Northwest Territories.

The promised ethnic diversity is represented by four people of Punjabi origin and one of Afghani origin. No-one of Chinese or other Asian, African, Latin American or Caribbean descent is in the cabinet. Two Indigenous people were named to the Liberal cabinet, Jody Wilson-Raybould of the We Wai Kai Nation as Minister of Justice and Attorney General and Hunter Tootoo, who is Inuit, as Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

The choice of ministers ranges from the proven old guard of the Liberal Party to an up and coming new guard.

To deal with the economy, the most important concern of Canadians, we have the recruits from the corporate sector such as Bill Morneau who was named Minister of Finance. Morneau has never held public office but is a pension and insurance baron and former executive chair of Morneau Shepell, said to be Canada’s largest “human resources consulting and outsourcing” firm specializing in brokering health insurance, benefits, retirement and pensions. In other words, privatization. Morneau is a millionaire and former head of the ultra-conservative, neo-liberal think tank, the C.D. Howe Institute, which never fails to advocate for the privatization of public assets and increased use of public-private partnerships (P3s) for infrastructure development. All signs point to Morneau using his background controlling pension and insurance funds to take advantage of these pools of funds as a source for capital for the Liberal government’s plans for billions in infrastructure investment.

According to the biography on his campaign website, Morneau was appointed in 2012 as Pension Investment Advisor to the Ontario Minister of Finance and in 2014 “was appointed by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to an expert panel to recommend a made-in-Ontario pension supplement to the CPP.” The Liberal program says, “we will work with the private sector and pools of capital that choose for themselves to invest in Canadians infrastructure projects.”

The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, which works with Morneau Shepell, has been expressing for some time its interest in handing over insurance funds for infrastructure development, especially P3s.

Other appointments compliment the qualifications of the Minister of Finance with expertise in P3s, privatization of public assets, pensions and the like. Treasury Board president Scott Brison’s credentials are work in investment banking, membership in the Trilateral Commission and a reputation for “fiscal conservatism.” Brison, who is now thrust into negotiations with Canada’s public servants, argued in January 2015 that pension funds should be used “to do something really big on infrastructure and at the same time create a more competitive economy.” Brison said that this use of pension funds is especially important for getting natural resources to market.

Another key player who will be entrusted with the privatization of municipal services and P3s is the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi. A former bus driver, one of the very few people in cabinet who seems to have ever held a working class job, he later became an Edmonton City Councillor who pushed for expansion of Edmonton light rail on a P3 basis in 2013.

In an ultimate admission of nation-wrecking, we have a Minister of Transportation — Marc Garneau, a former astronaut! — but not a Minister of Industry. What are we going to transport? In place of a Ministry of Industry in the new Liberal cabinet there is a portfolio called “Innovation, Science and Economic Development” and the minister is Navdeep Bains, who was also entrusted with the Great Seal of Canada.[1] In lieu of highlighting the need for strong industrial production, which has become for all intents and purposes non-existent, the emphasis is on scientific research, we are told. This harkens back to the Chrétien and Martin days where a “knowledge-based economy” was the be-all and end-all of 21st century economic development and prosperity. The example of the fate of once-thriving enterprises such as Nortel and Research in Motion shows that so long as the U.S. is permitted to call the shots, Canada will remain a dependent economy which unlike other advanced industrialized countries, does not produce its own main means of production and now does not even process its own raw materials prior to export.

Things only get stranger. While Bains is Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Kirsty Duncan is Minister of Science. Do the Liberals like science that much? Or is a distinction here going to be scientific research on the environment and health and such things and funding scientific research which benefits private interests such as the pharmaceutical companies, mining, war production and the like on the other?

While there is no Minister of Industry, the Natural Resources Ministry is given to James Carr, the former President and CEO of the Manitoba Business Council who has advocated for privatization of public assets.

Another major preoccupation of Canadians concerns questions of war and peace. Here we have a Minister of Defence of Punjabi origin, Harjit Sajjan, who swore allegiance to the Queen of England in front of a portrait of said Queen standing in the shadow of Victoria, Empress of India. Not an encouraging sign! Described as a “badass” by a columnist in the National Observer, he is said to have been responsible for the “kill or capture” of 1,500 Taliban in Afghanistan. He is said to have “demonstrated a profound understanding of the Taliban and tribal networks,” the columnist wrote. A nation-builder this does not make. Perhaps an asset for bribing warlords and the British imperialist policy of divide and rule. However Sajjan’s main role will not be commanding the armed forces but overseeing the largest single ministerial budget and how the government will replace CF-18 aircraft and choosing which monopolies to favour with the large warship-building contracts the Liberals have pledged to put out for bids.

Then we have the Stéphane Dion/Chrystia Freeland foreign policy tag team which provides a good example of the Liberals’ tried and true good cop/bad cop routine. Dion is to resurrect Canada’s peacekeeper image while Freeland is a master in the dark arts of regime change. In Liberal parlance, this is called “striking a good balance.”

Dion, of Kyoto Accord and Green Shift fame, was given the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His job is “restore Canada’s image abroad.” Chrystia Freeland, whose yeoman service to the resurgence of Ukrainian Nazis “coincided” with the entry of the likes of agri-monopolies Cargill and Monsanto to Ukraine, becomes Minister of International Trade. Freeland is one of the 13 Canadians banned from traveling to Russia as that country’s response to sanctions imposed by the Canadian government against Russian individuals and entities. She is entrusted with “restoring Canada’s relationship with the U.S.” and chairs the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Canada-U.S. relations. All the issues in this file are related to building the United States of North American Monopolies and problems of neo-liberal globalized trade. This includes NAFTA, bi-lateral trade agreements within the Americas, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, CETA and the energy, security and transportation corridors linked to integration with the U.S. war machine.

Keeping the scales from tipping too far in one direction are the “clever” announcements made to give the impression that the wrongs suffered by definite constituencies will be redressed.

Physician Jane Philpott is the new Minister of Health. Kent Hehr is the new Minister of Veterans Affairs who empathized with veterans, saying that as a quadriplegic he has “gone through some of the situations veterans have to.” “I understand red-tape issues,” he said. Hehr is a known advocate in Alberta for raising taxes or doing whatever it takes to pay for social services. Similarly, Status of Women minister Patricia Hajdu was the director of a homeless shelter and was involved in other work helping vulnerable people.

Carolyn Bennett becomes Minister of Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development. A priority is solving the outstanding cases of murdered and missing women which requires going to the dark heart of the crimes of colonialism and which must not be drowned out in another inquiry. Addressing the problem of the many Indigenous children in foster care in another important file. Prior to the announcement of Bennett’s appointment to Indigenous Affairs, Doug Cuthand writing for APTN National News on November 2 said it would be a “big mistake” to appoint an Indigenous MP in the post. This was not because they would not faithfully implement the government agenda, but because the department “should more honestly be called the Colonial Office.” He reminded everyone that “[t]his moribund department is charged with administering the Indian Act.”

“The departmental officials play a quasi-political role as Indian agents and overseers,” Cuthand said. “First Nations budgets are inadequate and negotiated on a take it or leave it basis. The former Conservative government instituted a series of rewards for bureaucrats who reduced spending by lapsing funds and Aboriginal Affairs was one of the most enthusiastic departments. Over five years Aboriginal Affairs lapsed over a $billion in social service funds. They also lapsed capital dollars and cut funding to First Nations governments,” he added.

How will Carolyn Bennet re-establish nation-to-nation relations with the Indigenous peoples if the content of the colonial relations is to remain the same?

Important and not so important portfolios have been given to various women. Mélanie Joly was a prosecutor for the Gomery Commission, created to investigate the sponsorship scandal surrounding the corruption and embezzlement by Liberal Party officials in the wake of the 1995 Quebec referendum. She was also an associate-director of the public relations law firm Cohn & Wolfe and ran the Quebec advisory committee of the campaign for Justin Trudeau’s leadership bid in 2013. She is now the Minister of Heritage. She has pledged to restore $150 million in funding to the CBC and Radio-Canada and $25 million to Telefilm and the National Film Board. Whether she is capable of handling the constitutional issues which will imbue the celebrations of Canadian Confederation in 2017, or the thorny issues of what constitute Canadian values and who determines identity, is yet to be seen.

While there is no Ministry of Industry, there is a Ministry of Small Business and Tourism with Bardish Chagger appointed minister. She too helped Justin Trudeau in his leadership bid.

Maryam Monsef, who also helped Trudeau in his leadership bid, was named Minister for Democratic Institutions. This is a major file given the profound need of renewal and the fact that all amendments to the electoral law in the last 20 years since the Chretien Liberals came to power in 1993 have only deepened the crisis in which these institutions are mired. To do justice to such a file requires profound knowledge of not only the current state of crisis in which these institutions find themselves, but also the history and political theory which informs them. Maryam is 30 years old and studied psychology and biology at Trent University.

Catherine McKenna is Minister of Environment and Climate Change but the Cabinet Committee on Environment, Climate Change and Energy is chaired by Stephane Dion with Chrystia Freeland as vice-chair.

Public Safety is given to Ralph Goodale whose experience will be called for to deal with Bill C-51 and work out how to amend the legislation in a way which is perceived as balancing security and rights. The Liberals must accomplish this even as rights are reduced to privileges with reasonable limits determined by the police authority, which keeps the civil power in check.

Jody Wilson-Raybould, a former BC Crown Prosecutor and BC Treaty Commissioner with whom several Indigenous nations and working people in BC have a negative experience, is Minister of Justice.

John McCallum, Canada’s Minister of Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs under previous Liberal administrations, has been appointed Minister of Immigration, Citizenship and Refugees. His first job is to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada before the end of the year according to the pledge made by the Liberals. He will have to solve the problem of which refugees to pick according to criteria provided by the political police in charge of security, not to mention how they will be brought to Canada which some have said would require military transportation. Will the “moderate terrorists” in the pay of the U.S. and NATO coalition forces now being routed by the Syrian army with Russian help be taken in under the pretext of being displaced persons, as was done under Liberal watch with the Nazis after WWII?

After all is said and done, as one journalist said prior to the swearing in, “Trudeau’s cabinet is the shape of things to come.” This pretty much says it all.

Note

1. Though industry is not recognized, Bains is also Registrar General of Canada, a position commonly assigned the Minister of Industry. The Registrar General is entrusted with the Great Seal of Canada and has responsibility for registering letters patent, commissions, instruments and proclamations.

Source: Renewal Update, November 6, 2015 • No. 210

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