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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, front row center, with members of his new Cabinet on Wednesday. (Photo: Reuters)

Trudeau's Cabinet "Looks Like Canada"—Will it Deliver on Promises?

'The Trudeau government must now uphold the Liberal Party’s electoral promises to reverse the damage of the Harper era policies,' says Greenpeace Canada

Deirdre Fulton

Inspiring hope and optimism among climate, Indigenous, and social justice campaigners, Canada's newly appointed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—elected last month and sworn in on Wednesday—has unveiled a 30-member Cabinet notable for its diversity, gender-parity, and youth representation. 

In several ways, the new Cabinet marks a sharp departure from the governing style of outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who formally resigned on Wednesday.

"This is going to be a period of slight adjustment for a number of people in the political world in Canada because government by cabinet is back," Trudeau said in written remarks. "We are going to sit down, around the cabinet table, and talk about the solutions [we] need to put forward, what’s in the best interest of Canadians, and how we're going to deliver on the promises Canadians quite rightly expect us to keep."

According to the Globe and Mail, Trudeau told reporters after the swearing-in ceremony that the Liberal government will be different from its predecessor "in that it will earn Canadians' trust by demonstrating that it trusts Canadians."

"Openness and transparency isn't only about trust, though," he said, "it’s also very much about better policy-making, better decisions. When media can do their jobs by holding us to account and asking tough questions, when disclosure and access to information is just the way Parliament behaves, when open data and evidence-based policy is at the heart of policy-making in government’s decisions, you get the kind of government that Canadians expect and deserve."

When asked why he insisted on having a cabinet with equal numbers of men and women, Trudeau replied dryly: "Because it's 2015."

Explaining the importance of a gender-balanced cabinet beyond "good optics," author and activist Shari Graydon said in an op-ed: "The federal cabinet makes decisions that profoundly affect all Canadians, more than half of whom happen to live lives irrevocably shaped by their extra X chromosome. Public policy—on health and labor, taxation, justice—needs to reflect and accommodate their realities."

Meanwhile, green groups heralded the fact that Canada's the new Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, has had her job title and description expanded for the first time to include "climate change" and to adopt "a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous people."

"Names matter," said (pdf) Keith Stewart, head of the Climate and Energy campaign at Greenpeace Canada, "and we hope that the appointment of a Minister of Environment and Climate Change indicates that Canada’s federal government is at last ready to take real action in the fight against climate change."

First Nations leaders welcomed another historic milestone: for the first time, there will be two Indigenous members of the Cabinet: Jody Wilson-Raybould as Minister of Justice and Attorney General; and Hunter Tootoo as Minister of Fisheries and the Canadian Coast Guard. Former aboriginal affairs critic Carolyn Bennett is Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. 

"We commend Prime Minister Trudeau for appointing such a strong and diverse Cabinet and for recognizing the importance of having Indigenous voices at the Cabinet table," Robert Phillips of the First Nations Summit said in a press statement from the First Nations Leadership Council. "This will surely assist in implementing the ambitious Aboriginal agenda and committing to a new nation-to-nation relationship based on reconciliation, recognition, and rights as well as respect for historic and modern day treaties."

Observers commented on other aspects of the Cabinet composition on Twitter:

However, as the National Post noted, "some ministers will have little time to celebrate before getting down to work."

The story continued:

The new immigration minister, for example, faces an immediate challenge after Trudeau promised to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year. Refugee advocates say that is unrealistic. Trudeau will either need someone who can either make it happen, or explain why the government won’t keep its promise.

The new environment minister will have little time to get up to speed on his or her file before being thrown into the deep end at next month’s UN climate change negotiations in Paris, and expectations are high in Canada and abroad for new leadership on the issue.

Meanwhile, Aboriginals are expecting quick action on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations. And the defence minister will need to come up with a new plan for Canada’s war against the Islamic State after Trudeau promised to stop bombing in Iraq and Syria.

And campaigners warned that the composition of the Cabinet, however progressive, is not the same thing as good policy.

"The Trudeau government must now uphold the Liberal Party’s electoral promises to reverse the damage of the Harper era policies," said Greenpeace's Stewart on Wednesday.

In an effort to hold Trudeau and his newly appointed Cabinet accountable, the international climate action group is sponsoring a four-day sit-in outside the prime minister's official residence (though Trudeau and his family will not be moving in) starting Thursday to demand that Trudeau freeze tar sands expansion and put Canada on the path to a clean-energy economy.

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