Editorial: North frozen out of Trudeau’s cabinet

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The issue: Justin Trudeau’s cabinet

We say: North’s exclusion is beyond reason

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a made-for-meme moment in 2015 when he mic-dropped his response to a question about why he thought having an equal number of men and women in cabinet was important.

Four years later, the gender balance remains but geographical representation has become a problem.

Not since his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, was shut out of the Prairies in 1980 has Canada’s election map appeared so clearly split along regional lines: Liberal red in urban Ontario and Quebec, the Maritimes and the Western Arctic; Conservative blue in the Prairies, Bloc cyan in Quebec and a healthy swath of New Democrat orange over Nunavut and Northern Manitoba, and coastal British Columbia.

The minister of the Indigenous Services was elected in a riding on the eastern shore of Montreal Island. The minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations is from Toronto – aptly renamed Downtown Canada in the animated South Park movie released in 1999 – and the minister of Northern Affairs spent 17 years on city council in Winnipeg, the seventh-largest urban centre in the country.

Two Liberal stars, Trudeau and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, made stump speeches in Iqaluit during the election but Nunavut elected Baker Lake’s Mumilaaq Qaqqaq of the NDP instead. Surely Trudeau had more in mind when deliberating cabinet appointments than thumbing his nose at the North but the lack of good reasons to stack a 37-person cabinet with MPs mostly from cities – 27 of them from Ontario and Quebec – leaves the possibility on the table.

NWT MP Michael McLeod, right, pictured with former Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo, left, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2015. McLeod said after the 2019 election Trudeau knew he wanted to service in cabinet, as Tootoo did, however briefly.
Last week, his dreams were dashed.
photo sourced from Facebook

The same can be said of NWT MP Michael McLeod’s personal relationship with Trudeau. McLeod has an enviable record of public service, including two terms in the territorial cabinet. He expressed interest in serving as a minister in the glow of his re-election. In that post-victory interview, he said Trudeau was already aware of his ambition.

With an election map resembling the 1980 result his father was saddled with (or saddled himself with), was the second Trudeau to serve as PM not looking for Western (check), Northern (check), Indigenous (check), rural (check) MPs with cabinet experience (check) to give his cabinet some sort of relevance west of Thunder Bay?

What could possibly have gone wrong?

The MPs in Trudeau’s cabinet do deserve our respect. They have answered a higher calling and have centuries of public service experience between them. One was chief of the Toronto police force. Another was an astronaut. But for all the perspective on the North a big city, southern worldview will give them, they might as well be observing us from orbit.

Including Labrador, the North has just four seats to offer any party that cares to field candidates here. The odds may be stacked against the North statistically speaking (four seats out of 338 is barely more than one per cent of the House of Commons), but that’s not a reason to write us off and let us freeze in the dark. It should be a reason for someone in Trudeau’s position to make an effort to include us. Even the Prairies got a “special representative” in cabinet.

The investments Trudeau’s government made in the North, improving the Northern Living Allowance, cash for the Mackenzie Highway, and to study the expansion of the Taltson hydro complex and the opening of the Slave Geological Province, were welcome, but they’re in the rear-view now.

And the unilateral decision to freeze for five years all Arctic oil and gas exploration, a decision that has its roots not even in Ottawa but farther south in Washington, D.C., still sticks in a lot of craws in the Beaufort.

The Liberal plan for the Arctic remains a piece of paper and is in danger of dying on the shelf.

The lack of Northern representation in cabinet should generate grave concern for Northwest Territories citizens and the politicians at all levels that they’ve chosen to represent them, including the territory’s own Michael McLeod.

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