A changing of the guard that includes Karina Gould, the youngest female Cabinet Ministry ever.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

January 12, 2017



He should be remembered in history as one Canada’s Fathers of Confederation. But those in that part of the country we call English-speaking will only recall how, as Liberal leader, Stephane Dion mangled his presentation on why the three opposition parties had agreed to form a coalition to claim the minority 2008 government back from Stephen Harper.

Trudeay and Dion

Buddies forever? Prime Minister knew he had to remove Stephane Dion from Cabinet. Feelings are badly damaged.

An un-cooperative TV network, a personal panic attack and poor English all contributed to his misadventure. That incident plus Harper’s secret meeting with the governor-general allowed the Tories to stay in power, and the landmark agreement for the thee left-wing parties to unite became history.

Among Quebec separatists, Dion is hated for introducing the Clarity Act, which has driven enthusiasm for Quebec independence to record low levels, Following the second Quebec referendum, Jean Chretien needed an intellectual to deal with the sovereignty problem. He became so enamoured with Dion that he appointed him as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs before he even had a seat in the House.

Dion - hands out

A minister with a strong academic streak that served the country well. Dion’s Clarity Act keeps the country together.

Then, based on advice Dion had sought from the Supreme Court, his Clarity Act ensured that Ottawa would need to approve all future referendum questions. In addition, a strong majority of voters would be required (greater than 50%) in order for the results to be deemed conclusive. And finally, any movement to sovereignty would have to be through negotiation rather than a declaration of independence, as the separatists had planned to do following the 1995 referendum.

Dion had been an academic before he became a politician, a man of principle who once campaigned for the separatists before realizing he truly believed in federalism. But the times have now changed and so must the make-up of the guard. So Justin Trudeau has offered him a diplomatic posting and given the job of Minister of Global Affairs to someone else. Sure Dion had not performed well on that armoured car deal with Saudi Arabia, but it’s the need to confront the changes in Washington which has convinced the PM that he needs a different kind of foreign minister.

Freeland in the House Quest period

Chrystia Freeland in the House of Common during Question Period.

So Chrystia Freeland, an Albertan of Ukrainian decent, has been named the new minister to help guide Canada internationally as we enter the era of Donald Trump. Trump, the business man, is expected to treat international issues largely from a transactional rather than principled perspective. It will be about the deal and everything and anything is up for grabs, a policy view shared by his friend Vladimir Putin, whom US security services are now convinced hacked political websites to help Trump win the last election.

Freeland Chrystia red dress - reat smile

Minister of Global Affairs Freeland will set policy and create a different Liberal party.

Freeland, a former student and author of Russian and slavic history is well positioned for her new role as Canada’s chief diplomat. That presumes that Putin lifts the sanctions he imposed on her in retaliation for the ones Canada placed on Russia following the seizure of Crimea. And beyond Europe, Freeland has spent considerable time in the US as a business journalist and panelist on talk shows. She is well positioned to engage with Trump and his Secretary of State whatever their philosophical differences. She once demonstrated her skills by walking out on free trade negotiations with the EU, a tactic which brought the deal home for Canada.

Prime Minister Trudeau has also made a couple of other changes to his Cabinet to coincide with the changing of the guard south of the border. Long-timer John McCallum is leaving the immigration post, which he served so well during the Syrian refugee crisis. He is being given a diplomatic posting as ambassador to China, a nation which has become a priority for Canada in regards to trade policy. There are also potential security issues at stake as tension continues to rise over China’s aggressive territorial claims, and the US response. This is particularly an issue since president-elect Trump has been baiting the Chinese, first on trade and more recently on relations with Taiwan.

And Burlington has made the big time with newly minted MP Karina Gould becoming the Minister of Democratic Institutions. It is a troubled file, formerly overseen by MP Maryam Monsef, who is being moved to the Status of Women. In the latter days of the 2015 election campaign, many Green and NDP-inclined voters switched their loyalty to the Liberals on the promise made by Justin Trudeau that 2015 would be the last federal election under first-past-the-post (FPP) rules. Those votes contributed to his majority victory and the PM will have to deliver on that promise.

Wallace and Gould

Karina Gould accepting congratulations from former Burlington MP Mike Wallace.

Monsef who had created a parliamentary committee to develop options to (FPP) was finessed by her own committee. They not only recommended implementation of a complicated mixed-member proportional system but also that the government hold a national referendum before making changes. Since this could not practically be completed prior to the next vote in 2019, the PM would have failed to deliver his promise. Gould has her work cut out to pull off a miracle such that the party retains its credibility.

It is a pretty normal routine to periodically shake up a Cabinet, bring in new blood and reward those who have performed well, as is the case for Freeland. That the shuffle wasn’t even greater must mean that the PM is relatively content with how the rest of his ministers are carrying out their responsibilities. And of course, with two vacancies, there will soon be new by-elections to test whether the public agrees with the PM.

Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington in 1995.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.     Tweet @rayzrivers

Background links:

Cabinet Shuffle –    Chrystia Freeland –    More Freeland –
Freeland Sanctions – 

John McCallum –

Stephane Dion –      More Dion –

First Past Post –

Dion a Hero –getting new - yellow

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1 comment to A changing of the guard that includes Karina Gould, the youngest female Cabinet Ministry ever.

  • Thomas Jordan

    I dispute your suggestion that Christina Freeland has “performed well.” She may have kept her brash demeanour from her pre-political days but it is sad to see that her performance as Minister of International Trade would have made her a legitimate candidate for a Harper cabinet post were he still in power.

    During the election we heard that the Liberals would end the Tory policy of signing contentious international trade agreements before an open parliamentary review. What a difference a little power has made. Both the appalling European and the TPP trade agreements are disasters not only because we can never hope to benefit financially from them but they demand a dramatic surrender of sovereignty to corporate-fascist elites.

    It is more likely that Mr. Dion opposed this tactical desertion of principle shared by the P.M. and Ms. Freeland and so was booted out of cabinet.