Doorstep Postings: Cut and Shuffle becomes the name of the game when the heat is on Justin Trudeau

Ya’ara Saks commemorated her cabinet appointment by Justin Trudeau with this official photo.

This is a special edition of Doorstep Postings, the periodic political commentary column written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

The cabinet shuffle—and the associated frenzied speculation and election predictions—are Parliament Hill’s version of Draft Day for your major league sport of choice.

Self-proclaimed serious journalists drop what they’re doing and try to outdo one another by broadcasting strategically placed leaks as if they are world-changing scoops. Pundits make the panel circuit, spinning half-formed theories of what it all means and at times shilling openly for their buddies and besties. 

The politerati work themselves up into a state convinced that there’s some grand Game of Thrones-esque design behind the upward, downward, and lateral moves. In fact, it is precisely because everyone and their brother is playing fantasy 5D chess that the logic behind the government’s moves seem so opaque. 

Let’s all take a breath and remember a few indisputable truths. This government has had a brutal couple of months. Foreign interference, rising crime, rising prices, out-of-control social media companies on a rampage, and the prime minister being confronted by angry mobs have all contributed to the impression of a government under siege.

Polls are showing the Liberals slipping amongst women and in Atlantic Canada. A combination of a co-opted NDP and backlashes over Pierre Poilievre’s aggression bubbling over seems to be all that’s animating this government some days.  

Because the PM believes he is on a mission to stop anything that can be considered far-right or unacceptable in its tracks, however, being on his back foot is where he believes himself to be at his strongest. This is the time when Trudeau pulls what he thinks is some crazy pivot out of thin air and razzle-dazzles us all.

And so, the Liberals are elevating some second-string talent off the benches and sending some of the old guard down to the minor leagues. Thus the scope of the shuffle, thus some of the many head scratching moves, and thus the seeming randomness. Instead of focusing on who went where, the question should be whether we, the voters, will be sufficiently overwhelmed as to forget that this is the same government with a fresh coat of paint? 

For a clear and present example, we at The Canadian Jewish News are meant to be blown away by the emergence of two Jewish women into cabinet.

Ya’ara Saks of York Centre is the new Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. Karina Gould from Burlington has been promoted to the Government House Leader, which means she will be calling the plays in the House of Commons.

Taking nothing away from the accomplishments of either MP, let’s remember that both of them live in very vulnerable ridings. The battle between Saks and former York Centre MPP Roman Baber was already going to be a wild mix of Jewish community politics—and leftover hurt feelings from the pandemic and the convoy. Baber will now be quick to tie these grievances to Saks’ performance in cabinet, citing her missteps as proof the government doesn’t care about those with mental health challenges. 

Temperament-wise, Gould couldn’t be more different from her predecessor Mark Holland—who is, or was, so partisan that by his own admission his entire personal life went into a tailspin when he lost his seat in 2011. Gould won’t even be able to step properly into the role until next year due to her maternity leave, but she deserves her promotion after stickhandling the child-care file. But the atmosphere in the House is about to get more partisan, not less. If the Liberal-NDP agreement dissolves, it’ll be her left holding the bag. If the Conservatives try a stunt to block a bill they know they have no chance of stopping, it’ll be up to her to plan the response. With great power comes great responsibility. 

It’s great that new blood is getting a chance to shine, and it’s clear that the government is as serious as they could be about meeting the challenge ahead of them. But there’s a very steep learning curve ahead for these new ministers—and we’ll see a few of them fall right off a cliff before, or during, the upcoming election.  

Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.