Don Martin: At 24 post-election days and counting, the federal government is still in limbo
OTTAWA -- At 24 post-election days and counting, the federal government is still in limbo.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s can’t-delay campaign for historic change has produced a sloth-speed government with a cabinet yet to be named, an idled bureaucracy waiting for orders and no date for Parliament’s return in sight.
And so political animals are left to speculate on which lucky Liberal MPs will receive Challenger-jet booking rights, a chauffeur-driven car, double-sized paycheques and the fawning staff which are bestowed upon all ministers, even those operating on a mini-ministry level.
This has been a longer-than-usual wait for the lucky lottery winners.
The gap between the election and the cabinet naming in 2015, when Trudeau inherited a caucus of largely untested talent in the aftermath of a shocker majority win, was 17 days.
True, it took Trudeau a month to move the boxes for the 2019 lineup, but this year will be the longest yet.
With Gov. Gen. Mary Simon ordered by Trudeau to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany next week – to which I can only say ‘HUH’?? – Her Excellency is not expected to perform her constitutional duty of swearing in the next executive council until October 25th.
At this point, it ought to be my journalistic duty to condemn this excessive delay because, after all, the cabinet will drive the urgent policy revolution Trudeau used to justify his $600-million election call.
But that would be wrong.
The truth behind the increasing concentration of prime ministerial power is that the federal cabinet is merely a conduit for Trudeau’s PMO plans and not a catalyst or incubator for original thought.
Picking the best people for the job of running the government is just a quaint cabinetmaking notion because merit has so little to do with the selection process.
Gender, geography, ethnic background, loyalty to the party and friendship with the leader are the main ingredients in constructing this political mosh pit.
And when the lineup is set, just so there’s no misunderstanding of the power structure in place, new ministers are given detailed mandate letters spelling out the do’s and don’ts in their portfolio for the term ahead.
Failure to toe the line or dare to challenge the Prime Minister’s whims, even the ones that are unethical, and you risk becoming the next Jody Wilson-Raybould.
Which brings us to what should happen when Trudeau eventually settles on a shiny new inner circle – and hopefully ditches the duds.
The most urgent demotion is the ouster of Harjit Sajjan as Minister of National Defence, a portfolio he seemed suited to hold as a decorated military reservist but a quickly morphed into a complete disaster in lurching the military from one demoralizing crisis to the next.
His botched watch was filled with sexual misconduct allegations raging in senior ranks, including a new probe of allegations raised against the incoming head of the Canadian Army just this week, the wrongful firing of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, a failure to upgrade military equipment and our embarrassing AWOL on the world peacekeeping stage. Rolled together, you have undeniable proof that a bad minister can inflict severe damage when left without adult supervision.
Others should be shuffled off to the backbench after drifting beyond their best-before date. Carolyn Bennett of Crown-Indigenous Relations is getting stale, Patty Hajdu failed to rise to the pandemic challenge in Health and David Lametti is consistently unimpressive as Justice Minister.
Of course there are a few ministers who seem capable of influence, if not independence.
Besides Trudeau’s obvious heir apparent in Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, approving nods should go to vaccine procurement minister Anita Anand in Public Works, empathetic Indigenous Services Marc Miller, the impressive Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough and Innovation’s energetic François-Philippe Champagne.
But nothing will get dramatically better quickly, even if there’s a new blood infusion of surprisingly strong talent.
For all the change Canadians will notice once the Trudeau cabinet is finally sworn in, the Governor General could spend another month overseas instead of rushing back to shuffle the cheerleader seating in Justin Trudeau’s echo chamber.
That’s the bottom line.