Trudeau unlikely to pick many Toronto cabinet ministers: experts

High profile Toronto MPs are sure to be shut out of cabinet with regional representation a must, according to political experts and long-time Liberals.
Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau slated to announce cabinet Wed. Nov. 4. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Nearly half of the newly-elected Liberal caucus is from Ontario, and the winning party swept Toronto, but a commitment to regional diversity is sure to leave many accomplished Ontario candidates without a cabinet portfolio, prominent Liberals agree.

Regional representation in cabinet is an important Canadian tradition, according to Liberal Senator Art Eggleton, who was first appointed to prime minister Jean Chrétien's cabinet as President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Infrastructure in 1993.

"It's important that all parts of the country feel they are part of the governance of Canada and they've come to expect that's the case," Eggleton said.

Swearing in of the new government is expected to commence Wednesday morning.

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Breaking with that tradition would be difficult for prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau, even if that means overlooking some MP's from the GTA who might bring notable experience to a portfolio.

Trudeau's dilemma, ironically, is that he has "an embarrassment of riches," according to Eddie Goldenberg, Chrétien's former chief of staff and senior policy advisor.

In Toronto, he can choose from an experienced and popular former city councillor, Adam Vaughan, former police chief Bill Blair or a Bay Street veteran, Bill Morneau.

While it's an asset for Trudeau to have the specialized knowledge that the GTA's prospects for cabinet ministers bring to the table, there are so many other considerations, like experience, ethnic diversity and of course the "convention that in Canada every province should be represented," Goldenberg said.

Eggleton was only one of five appointees from Toronto in 1993. With Trudeau's cabinet, even though 80 of the 184 Liberal MP's hail from Ontario, Eggleton said he'd be surprised if there will be even that many, considering Trudeau's pre-conditions and the custom of regional representation.

On Oct. 20, the day after the federal election, Trudeau talked about his campaign promise to have gender parity in his cabinet. Speaking in French he said, "I'm very pleased to say we will respect that. Just look at the extra-ordinary women who were elected for the Liberal party across the country. The cabinet will have a gender balance."

It's also widely expected Trudeau will have a cabinet of 28-30 ministers, much smaller than Stephen Harper's last cabinet.

Urban affairs role

Former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps said forming the cabinet "is probably the toughest part of governing."

In her two decades in the House of Commons, she said that "some who are not included don't get over it. The reality is even though you have fewer cabinet ministers from Ontario, Ontario is a more powerful voice and re-election is a very compelling message, as well."

She expects Ontario will be represented in Trudeau's cabinet proportionally, but that means about half a dozen ministers from the entire province, not just from the GTA.

One way to compensate might be through a cabinet position solely on city strategy, she said.

"Public Works is biggest landlord in the country," Copps said, but she added that department "doesn't look at its role in terms of city structure," or tackle urban issues.

Competence key, not 'quotas,' says professor

Political science professor Pauline Beange said not only is Ontario one of the economic engines of the country but in large part, Ontario voters gave Trudeau the election.

"Pulling together a cabinet that is competent and that reflects the people who think they are owed something is challenging," Beange said.

She said the portfolios should be assigned based on "competence as opposed to doing it on quotas based on gender, regional identity and other considerations."

Everyone wants the "top prize," Eggleton said, but "those people who don't make it on this round will make it next time."

Nelson Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, agreed that "cabinet creep," will create opportunities in the future.

Wiseman used Harper's cabinet as an example. It started out with 26 ministers in 2006 but by his last term it had ballooned to 40, tied with former prime minister Brian Mulroney for the largest cabinet in Canadian history.

Historically, Wiseman said, the "real cabinet is no longer the cabinet. It's the prime minister's office. Is that going to change? We'll see. I'm skeptical."

While there's a lot of talent on the Liberal bench, the question is whose skills and talents will end up in cabinet. And the only people who know the answer right now are Trudeau and team he has selected..


  • An earlier version of this story said 79 of the newly elected Liberal MPs are from Ontario. The number is 80.
    Nov 04, 2015 7:32 AM ET


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