Opinion-Policy Nexus

Cabinet shuffles mean change. That’s what they are all about: new players appear; some old ones play musical chairs, while other faithful retainers are swept into the dustbin of political history.

In the era of Trudeau II, however, a new phenomenon is taking hold. It’s the wholesale creation of new departments or ministries. Some make sense in our changing society. Some make none. Some are uncomfortable hybrids of old departments and agencies. Some seem to be created solely to foster the illusion that the government is really, really busy – acting vigorously on an improbable number of fronts.

Thus, thanks to last week’s post-election shuffle by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the country can now boast of a Minister of Digital Government (Joyce Murray from Vancouver), a Minister of Seniors (Deb Schulte from Ontario’s GTA), and a Minister of Middle-Class Prosperity (Mona Fortier from Ottawa). Fortier doubles as Associate Minister of Finance. As to why we need a minister to manage middle-class prosperity or to associate with Minister of Finance Bill Morneau, I wouldn’t venture a guess.

Some creative soul in the Prime Minister’s Office also conjured up this unlikely coupling: Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development. That’s Maryam Monsef from Peterborough-Kawartha.

She’s not alone in the odd-couple category. How about a Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages? A Minister of Employment, Workplace Development and Disability Inclusion? Or a Minister of Infrastructure and Communities?

Yep, we got all three. Not to mention a Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs who doubles as Deputy Prime Minister while retaining responsibility for trade relations with Washington and anything else the PM throws her way.

During the Second World War, they called cabinet strongman Clarence Decatur Howe the “Minister of Everything,” but old C.D. had nothing on Chrystia Freeland, who, in addition to other chores, will have the pleasure of dealing with Donald Trump as well as the trio of domestic  troglodytes, Doug Ford, Jason Kenney and Scott Moe.

We’ve come a long way from the days – pre-historic, as they seem now – when cabinets had a prime minister, and ministers for justice, finance, external affairs, defence, agriculture, immigration, health, public works, labour and a postmaster general (remember that one?). Fewer than a dozen ministers (all men in those days) ran the country. And they probably still could, were it not for the demands of regional representation, gender equality, and the aforementioned desire of a minority government to appear furiously active.

Out of curiosity, I took a look at the cabinets in the era of Trudeau I. Pierre, as Brian Mulroney did later on, had cabinets that were as large or larger than Justin’s. And in a possible harbinger of creativity to come, Pierre Trudeau responded to economic conditions in 1969 by creating a new department, Regional Economic Expansion.

Whatever happened to DREE? Well, DREE lasted until 1982, when it was replaced by DRIE (Department of Regional Industrial Expansion). Five years later, DRIE was dissolved and some of its functions were handed to two new regional agencies, ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) and WD (Department of Western Economic Diversification Canada). Responsibility for Ontario and Quebec was hived off to yet another new department, DIST (Department of Industry, Science and Technology).

Before we knew it, DIST split Ontario and Quebec into FedNor (Federal Economic Development Initiative in Northern Ontario) and FORD-Q (Federal Office for Regional Development–Quebec).

The amoebas kept splitting. FORD-Q begat CED-Q (Canada Economic Development Agency for the Regions of Quebec) while FedNor begat FedDev Ontario (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario) and CanNor (Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency).

At this point, I abandoned the search for DREE. For all I know, DREE, launched with much fanfare in 1969, may still exist in some form somewhere. Perhaps it is in storage in the attic of 24 Sussex Drive, the clapped-out official residence of the prime minister, which has been abandoned for the past four years, pending rehabilitation, demolition or whatever. I like to think DREE will be joined, sooner than later, in the attic of lost departments by my favourite 2019 absurdity, the Department of Middle-Class Prosperity.


Monday, November 25, 2019 - 09:17