Liberal name changes for ministries signal a shift in focus

A number of cabinet posts have been renamed by Justin Trudeau's government. Some departments have been merged into one, while others have been broken into two. Each of the changes sends a message.

New ministries and names — including 2 with 'science' in them — come with new government

With the introduction of the Liberal cabinet, several ministries were rearranged or renamed, revealing several key shifts in emphasis for the new government. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

A number of cabinet posts have been renamed by Justin Trudeau's government. Some departments have been merged into one, while others have been separated into two.

Each change sends a message.

Such name changes are never just coincidental, but reflect current sensibilities, as well as the rising and falling priorities of different governments.

In 1964, for example, the British War Office, where Winston Churchill once pored over maps and planned Hitler's downfall, became the much less belligerent-sounding Ministry of Defence. The old name just didn't sound right in the 1960s, when marches for nuclear disarmament drew millions into the streets and the country was divesting itself of the empire over which it had once waged war.

The new Liberal government seems to be looking to turn a similar page, perhaps on a less grandiose scale, with some of the changes in the names of ministries announced Wednesday.

2 science ministers

The word "science" did not figure in Stephen Harper's cabinet, except at minister of state level. Ed Holder, one of the lowest-profile members of the Harper cabinet, held that post at dissolution in August.

Trudeau's cabinet will feature not only a fully fledged minister of science (former climate scientist Kirsty Duncan), but also a minister of innovation, science and economic development (Navdeep Bains.)

That certainly suggests the government is sending a message that it cares about science, and will be more open to scientific advice, than the former one. Liberal spokeswoman Genevieve Hinse said during a live chat on CBCNews.ca that the government wanted to separate pure science from its commercial application under economic development.

Another significant change is to Environment, which becomes Environment and Climate Change, making it clear that fighting global warming is at the heart of the government's goals as environmental steward. That role goes to Ottawa MP Catherine McKenna, who has worked as a legal adviser with the UN.

Climate change did not rate a mention in Harper's cabinet, nor in departmental names under his ministry.

The decision to rename Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development as Indigenous and Northern Affairs represents the second name change for that ministry in five years. Until 2011, it was Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

The word "aboriginal," though considered by some more correct than "Indian," was not welcomed in all quarters. The word "indigenous" is also used in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a document that the outgoing government described as "aspirational," but which the incoming government has pledged to implement.

In a sign of the change in tone, incoming minister Carolyn Bennett took her oath of office with an eagle feather in one hand and a tuft of sweetgrass in the other.

There is also a subtle shift from "Northern Development" to "Northern Affairs," perhaps to signal that the new government sees the North as about more than just its resources.

Families and children

One all-new portfolio is Jean-Yves Duclos's Department of Family, Children and Social Development.

In the outgoing government, Social Development was attached to Employment, and there was no minister for families or children.

As with some other portfolios in the new cabinet, the title doesn't seem to put Duclos in charge of any existing department.

Instead, the old Employment and Social Development Canada appears to have been split in two. Part of it has gone to form Duclos's new portfolio, while another part, more focused on employment, is under Maryann Mihychuk as the Department of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour.

But while there are portfolios that mention both "children" and "youth," the Harper-era seniors portfolio — handled by a minister of state — has disappeared from the Liberal ministry.

Coast guard gets a mention

The Conservatives' closure of Canadian Coast Guard stations on the West Coast and search and rescue centres on the Atlantic was a campaign issue in the last election. The Liberals promised to reverse those closures.

That commitment is probably reflected in the decision to name Hunter Tootoo as minister of fisheries and oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Similar reasons lie behind the rebranding of the immigration portfolio. After a campaign in which Syrian refugees played an important role, Citizenship and Immigration Canada is being rebranded as Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

The post went to an experienced cabinet minister, John McCallum, who now faces the tall order of turning into reality the Liberal promise to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by year's end.


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