Chris Wattie / Reuters

Trudeau's First Steps

Promising, But Not Revolutionary

“Sunny ways, my friends. Sunny ways. This is what positive politics can do,” said Justin Trudeau, the new Canadian prime minister, in his victory speech in Montreal on October 19. The remarks were a direct nod to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, a former Canadian prime minister known for his pleasant manner and ability to forge compromises. Trudeau’s speech underscored how different he would be from his conservative predecessor, Stephen Harper, whom the Canadian historian Robert Bothwell recently called “the most cynical prime minister in Canadian history.”

After a 78-day campaign in which identity issues featured prominently, Trudeau’s first steps have been to emphasize diversity. His 31-member cabinet, which he unveiled as one that looks “like Canada,” is the most diverse the country has ever seen. Two indigenous Canadians were tapped to become minister of justice and attorney general; a Muslim woman of Afghan descent, Maryam Monsef, who came to Canada as a refugee in 1996, became minister of democratic institutions; four members of the Sikh community were appointed to various posts, including Harjit Sajjan, who became minister of national defense (Canada now has more Sikhs in its cabinet than India); and 50 percent of the cabinet is made up of women, another notable first.

And there is more. The minister of environment has been renamed the minister of environment and climate change; the minister of citizenship and immigration has become the minister of immigration, refugees, and citizenship; and the minister of state has become the minister of innovation, science, and economic development. Moreover, of the 31-member cabinet, 16 chose not to be sworn in by religious oath—including Carolyn Bennett, the minister for indigenous and northern affairs, who took her oath holding an eagle feather and a tuft of sweetgrass.

The new Liberal leader’s “sunny ways” feel like a promising return to a more hopeful form of politics.

Leaving aside the benefits such diverse appointments may have on policy, they are worthy gestures in their own right. Yet Trudeau has not stopped there. Harper-era rules that had muzzled government scientists, something the conservative prime minister used to maintain strict messaging control so as to minimize criticism of the oil sands. Trudeau also penned an open letter to Canadian diplomats promising a “new era” in civil service, and he visited the National Press Gallery hours after his election to signal greater openness toward the media.

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