When Justin Trudeau and his senior advisers get down to decide who will serve in his next cabinet, they follow two guidelines.
First and foremost, each province should have at least one cabinet minister. Since the Confederation, every Prime Minister has observed this guideline.
Second, there will be at least as many women in the cabinet as there are men. It is possible for there to be more women than men, but it is not possible for there to be fewer. That’s been Trudeau’s golden rule since he shrugged “because it’s 2015” at his first cabinet swearing-in, and he hasn’t strayed from it since.
So with just those two rules to go by, we can start getting a good sense of who will be — and who will not be — joining the prime minister around the cabinet table.
Starting with that first rule, we look to Alberta where the Liberals just elected two MPs, one each from Edmonton and Calgary. All prime ministers, Trudeau included, would prefer to have at least one minister from each of those cities in Canada’s fourth-largest province and Trudeau will get just that.
So: Congratulations to newly elected George Chahal in Calgary—Skyview and re-elected, after losing in 2019, Randy Boissonnault in Edmonton—Centre. Chahal and Boissonnault — the only two Liberals in Alberta — are locks to be in cabinet.
Once again, there will not be any cabinet representative from Saskatchewan because, for the second election in a row, Saskatchewan is 100 per cent Conservative blue from top to bottom.
Now let’s examine that gender parity scorecard.
First, the fellas: There are 18 male cabinet incumbents returning. Add the two new guys from Alberta and you would now have 20 male cabinet ministers.
And if you had 20 men, you would need 20 women — and your cabinet just grew from 36 positions where it was before the election to 40 positions.
So maybe Trudeau would demote two male incumbents to keep his cabinet at 36.
But who would you demote?
Even if you demoted, say, the 75-year-old Lawrence MacAulay, his P.E.I. replacement would be one of the other three Liberal guys elected on the island. Same thing in Manitoba: There are four Liberal MPs, they are all men, and two are in cabinet. Maybe you could demote Winnipeg’s Jim Carr since his role as minister without portfolio and special representative for the Prairies could be picked up by one of the new Alberta guys. And you’d probably want to keep the other Manitoban, Dan Vandal, for he is, as a Métis man, the only Indigenous person Trudeau has in his cabinet.
But looking down the rest of the list of the men, it’s hard to see anyone that Trudeau would drop. They are politically important — Dominic LeBlanc in New Brunswick or Pablo Rodriguez in Montreal, for example — or they are key players on files important to the government such as Marc Miller at Indigenous Services, Bill Blair at public safety or Jonathan Wilkinson at environment.
Some of his male ministers have been in political hot water in the months leading up to the election but would Trudeau really drop, say, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan or Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault? Both those men may be reassigned to new portfolios but the prime minister would be conceding the government had been badly managing, respectively, sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces or internet and media reform — and no prime minister wishes to cede that ground to the opposition. From a political standpoint, it’s hard to see how Trudeau demotes Sajjan, Guilbeault or any other male incumbent minister to the backbench.
So Trudeau may just avoid ruffling any male feathers and boost his cabinet to 40 people to keep all the male incumbents and make room for the two new Alberta guys.
Now, if you happen to be a male backbench Liberal MP and you’ve read this far, you’ve probably figured out the bad news: There’s no chance you’re moving up into cabinet. There just isn’t any room for any more men.
But there’s lots of room for female newcomers to cabinet. Trudeau may need as many as 20 female cabinet ministers, after all, and he’s only got 14 incumbents.
Catherine McKenna (infrastructure) did not run again while Bernadette Jordan (fisheries), Maryam Monsef (women and gender equality) and Deb Schulte (seniors) all lost their seats.
First among the new women in cabinet, I would reckon, would be the newly elected MP for Halifax West, Lena Diab. Diab is the only female Liberal MP from Nova Scotia so putting her into cabinet helps Trudeau meet those first two rules: One minister at least from each province plus gender parity. Not only that, Diab is a former provincial justice minister. She could easily handle any senior federal portfolio.
How about a female minister from New Brunswick? Right now, LeBlanc is the only minister among the six elected Liberals in that province. If Trudeau wants another N.B. minister it would have to be one of the two women: Ginette Petitpas Taylor in Moncton or Jenica Atwin in Fredericton. Petitpas Taylor had been in cabinet. She preceded Patty Hajdu as health minister and there’s no reason she could not rejoin cabinet in some other role. It’s possible Trudeau could put the floor-crossing Atwin into cabinet but there will be loyal Liberal backbenchers — both male and female — who would be very unhappy to see such a reward go to Atwin, first elected as a Green MP in 2019 and re-elected Monday as a Liberal.
The female cabinet contingent from Quebec will be filled with incumbents so let’s look at Ontario, where there are three incumbent vacancies and some interesting opportunities to refresh his cabinet with some new faces.
It’s hard to see how Trudeau would not name newly elected London West MP Arielle Kayabaga to cabinet. Kayabaga has experience as an elected official — she was a London city councillor before the election — and she won a tight race.
She and her family fled a civil war in Burundi to find refuge in Canada. Kayabaga grew raised speaking French as a Burundi woman. But, as a Black woman, Kayabaga would be a welcome addition to the cabinet for many Black Canadians who have wondered why other members of the Black Liberal caucus, such as Greg Fergus or, more recently, Celina Caesar-Chavannes, have been overlooked. Trudeau is unlikely to turn down this opportunity because she is a woman, Black, bilingual, and has served as an elected leader.