How Pierre Trudeau ensured western cabinet representation in 1980

Pierre Trudeau's new government elected just two MPs from west of Ontario. And when it came to naming his cabinet, those two Manitoba MPs weren't going to supply the balance he needed.

Appointing Liberal senators from the 3 most western provinces was one way

Trudeau's challenge: western cabinet ministers

42 years ago
Duration 2:03
After winning the 1980 election with just two MPs west of Ontario, Pierre Trudeau seeks answers on how his government should have western representation.

When it came time to name his cabinet in 1980, two MPs from Manitoba weren't going to supply the balance Pierre Trudeau needed after winning the election nine days earlier

But Lloyd Axworthy and Bob Bockstael had a role to play all the same. On Feb. 27 that year, the CBC's Mike Duffy reported on what they'd been up to.

The pair had taken on the task of reporting to Trudeau on how he might best solve the problem of western representation in his cabinet.

"Commissioned last week, [the report] was written by two men with very good credentials, the only Liberal candidates elected west of Ontario," said anchor Knowlton Nash for The National

The quest for balance

There were a few ways Pierre Trudeau could ensure his cabinet reflected viewpoints from Western Canada. (The National/CBC Archives)

The MPs' report had suggested the appointment of three Liberal senators to cabinet to fill the void of western MPs, one each from Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C.

Appointing senators to cabinet was uncommon, but not unheard of. Joe Clark had named senator Jacques Flynn as justice minister for his cabinet in 1979, according to the Globe and Mail.

"And they suggested that the three senators take special steps to ensure that they receive input from ordinary Westerners in their policy discussions," said Duffy.

Axworthy had told reporters that the senators would be "associate ministers," or, in Duffy's words, "sort of junior ministers" with specific responsibilities tied to Western Canada.

"I have some confidence that we'll be able to show ... to western Canadians there is a commitment on the part of this government," said Axworthy.

"We can show that western Canadians can deal with issues like transportation and resources in a Liberal fashion." 

Reporter Mike Duffy said about a dozen Liberal senators from the West were qualified for three cabinet positions. (The National/CBC Archives)

Duffy ran down a list of "familiar" names from among the dozen Liberal senators from Western Canada who might be expected to be appointed to cabinet.

"Trudeau's choices will be critical because they could very well determine just how successful he'll be in rebuilding the Liberal party in Western Canada," he concluded.

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