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Ministerial mandate changes include a renege on electoral reform, and dropped wording promising to fulfill ‘all’ commitments

By Rachel Aiello      

Yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued revised mandate letters for several ministers in new portfolios, and the priorities for some have changed considerably.

Moments after the new mandate letters were released publicly, Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, joined by her parliamentary secretary Andy Fillmore, announced that the Liberals would not pursue electoral reform. The Hill Times photographs by Rachel Aiello
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The revised mandate letters of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s refreshed cabinet members hit with a thud in Ottawa yesterday, as it quickly became apparent that the government was no longer going to pursue changes to Canada’s electoral system.

Written explicitly in the marching orders for new Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould (Burlington, Ont.): “Changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate.”

Moments after the new mandate letters were released publicly, Ms. Gould, joined by her parliamentary secretary Andy Fillmore (Halifax, Ont.), announced in the House of Commons Foyer that the Liberals would be breaking their campaign promise that the 2015 election—where they first committed to this change, and subsequently rose to power with a stunning majority win—would be the last election under the first-past-the-post system.

Ms. Gould told reporters, “a clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged.”

She argued that despite the months of work done by the Special House Committee on Electoral Reform and their specific recommendation to hold a referendum on proportional representation; and the 360,000 Canadians that were consulted through the mydemocracy.ca platform, that no clear preference, or referendum question had emerged.

Instead, the government will move forward on other changes to the Canada Elections Act through Bill C-33, which makes seven changes to voting, including repealing changes to voter ID, vouching, and ex-pats voting brought in by the last government under the Fair Elections Act. The legislation also includes more powers and information for Canada’s chief electoral officer and creates a registry for future electors.

Ms. Gould’s predecessor Maryam Monsef (Peterborough-Kawartha, Ont.) introduced the bill in November, and it awaits second reading in the House.

“Rather than keep his word to the millions of Canadians who voted for him and the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who engaged in good faith with Mr. Trudeau over this question of how to strengthen and broaden our democracy, Mr. Trudeau chose today instead to spit in their face,” said NDP MP Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, B.C.), his party’s Democratic Institutions critic, responding to the minister’s announcement in the House foyer yesterday afternoon.

“They’re not fearful of holding a referendum—they’re fearful of having the voting system that doesn’t keep Liberals in power forever and more. They’re fearful of the political consequences. This wasn’t a speech or a discourse written by the minister or even Mr. Trudeau today. This is Gerry Butts [Mr. Trudeau’s principal secretary] and Katie Telford [Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff] whose primary job is to try to keep the Liberals in power. That’s all this is,” Mr. Cullen said on Wednesday.

A Liberal source told The Hill Times that the entire Liberal caucus was just informed of the announcement on Wednesday morning by the minister and Mr. Trudeau in the caucus meeting on the Hill.

There were also a few other considerable changes to Ms. Gould’s mandate, when compared to the initial letter given to the former Democratic Institutions minister.

While abandoning the promise of electoral reform, Ms. Gould will now be working with the minister of National Defence and the minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to defend Canada’s electoral process from cyber threats like hackers.

As well, as it’s stated in her mandate, Ms. Gould will take the approach that: “Sunshine is the best disinfectant to concerns about our political process” in pursuing enhanced transparency for political fundraisers, by introducing legislation to provide more public disclosure for fundraising events attended by the prime minister, members of cabinet, party leaders, and leadership candidates.

Her instructions also keep three promises from the original mandate of the position: to create an independent commissioner to organize political party leaders’ debates during future federal election campaigns; to review and propose changes to third-party political spending; and to help with a review of the Access to Information Act.

The preamble—roughly 10 paragraphs—of the new mandate letters is the same for all of the ministers, and includes a number of language changes, including some tense changes. However, most notably, the original mandate letters stated: “Over the course of our four-year mandate, I expect us to deliver on all of our commitments.” Whereas in the new letters, “all of” has been removed, and the line simply states: “Over the course of our four-year mandate, I expect us to deliver on our commitments.”

Another noticeable change is the adjustment in language when referring to First Nations. Instead of “Indigenous Canadians” the term used in the letters is now “Indigenous Peoples.”

Notable changes to other mandate letters

The Minister of International Trade Francois-Philippe Champagne’s (St. Maurice-Champlain, Que.) mandate now states his overall goal will be to increase trade and attract job-creating investment to Canada through promoting trade, and improving Canadian competitiveness to generate economic growth through a new “Invest in Canada Hub”; to implement the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA); and to support the Foreign Affairs Minister in strengthening commerce with the U.S. while boosting the continent’s overall global competitiveness.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland’s (University-Rosedale, Ont.) main goal in her new mandate is to “restore constructive Canadian leadership in the world and to promote Canada’s interests and values,” and notes she will lead a team of ministers, including the minister of International Trade, and the minister of International Development and La Francophonie. Ms. Freeland’s marching orders continues to call the U.S. Canada’s closest ally, but now notes formally that Ms. Freeland will lead a whole-of-government strategy towards the Canada-U.S. relationship, including focuses on border security, addressing global security threats, advancing shared action on climate issues, and to work on NAFTA. Her new mandate also includes working with a host of other ministers on championing “the values of inclusive and accountable governance, including by promoting human rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality, and peaceful pluralism, inclusion and respect for diversity. She’s also been tasked with revitalizing Canada’s public diplomacy.

The Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu’s (Thunder Bay-Superior North, Ont.) mandate has been boosted to include new responsibilities and new focuses, including strengthening skills training to “build the human capital that Canadians and employers need.” She will also be tasked with expanding Canada Job Fund Agreements; the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers; and the Labour Market Agreements for Persons with Disabilities. Ms. Hajdu is also expected to make changes to the Canada Labour Code around flexible work arrangements; and helping the minister of Families, Children and Social Development on a number of files.

The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen (York South-Weston, Ont.) is being told to focus on Canada’s general values of welcoming newcomers. Specifically, this will include improving settlement services for new Canadians; passing Bill C-6, amending the Citizenship Act; reviewing the visa policy framework; and working with the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to change the Oath of Canadian Citizenship to reflect the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations. As well, he’s continuing the responsibility for improving the temporary foreign worker program, but now without the specific request for the $1,000 Labour Market Impact Assessment fee to be eliminated. His mandate also no longer mentions leading efforts to facilitate temporary entry of low-risk travellers.

And lastly, the Minister for Status of Women Maryam Monsef’s (Peterborough-Kawartha, Ont.) mandate letter includes a number of new tasks that essentially double-down on Gender Based Analysis. Her main goal, as set out by Mr. Trudeau, is to “ensure government policy, legislation, and regulations are sensitive to the different impacts that decisions can have on men and women,” and says the Canadian government wants to make “meaningful progress” on reducing the wage gap, increasing the senior-level positions women hold on boards, and better-representing women in skilled trades. She has been mandated to act on a number of things by 2018, namely introducing pay equity legislation, and hosting a national roundtable on Gender Based Analysis. She’s also been asked to work with the Finance minister to build on the Gender Based Analysis done for the budget 2017 and beyond in other Privy Council Office content and government consultations. It also notes that the Chief Government Whip Pablo Rodriguez (Honoré-Mercier, Que.) and Ms. Monsef will be charged with ensuring Parliament and other federal workplaces are free from harassment an sexual violence.

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