Just before Fitness Minister Raymond Perrault was dropped from the federal cabinet last week, he
offered Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau two pieces of advice. First, he said that he should be replaced by a westerner. Second, Perrault said that Trudeau should shake up his own office and the entire party, not just “rearrange the chairs” around the cabinet table. Trudeau clearly ignored Perrault’s first suggestion when he appointed five easterners from the Liberal back bench to his inner circle. And the Prime Minister also seems likely to disregard the British Columbia senator’s second request.
Trudeau was uncharacteristically brutal in dismissing five ministers. But his third cabinet shuffle of the year is unlikely to produce any notable change in the policies of the three-year-old government. All of the key economic ministers—with the exception of Lloyd Axworthy, who was moved from Employment and Immigration to Transportkept their jobs. But rookie minister David Collenette identified one possible reason for the new appointments. Emerging from the stately swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall, the new multiculturalism minister admitted
that the government had to try to change its image before the next federal election, due within 18 months. “It’s the Stanley Cup finals,” he said. “We’re down, we’re in the final rounds and we have to pull the game out of the fire.”
Never in his 15 years as prime minister has Trudeau dropped so many ministers at one time. Small Business Minister William Rompkey was in West Germany when Trudeau called to tell him he had been dismissed. Perrault, a
nine-year cabinet veteran, had known for weeks that he would be a casualty. Defence Minister Gilles Lamontagne,
64, the oldest member of cabinet, was also prepared for his dismissal, and he had been lobbying for the post of lieutenant-governor of Quebec. But for Toronto ministers Paul Cosgrove and James Fleming, who had been in the cabinet only three years, the firings choked off political careers that they had cultivated for years.
For the five newcomers it was a time for
celebration. Incoming Fitness Minister Céline Hervieux-Payette gaily flaunted a wide-brimmed pastel blue hat and playfully offered to run a 10-minute mile for the 100 reporters who gathered outside the Governor-General’s residence. The fiery 42-year-old Montreal lawyer was first elected in 1979, and her appointment brought to three the number of women in the Trudeau cabinettying a record set in 1976. Roger Simmons, 44, took over Newfoundland’s tra-
ditional seat in cabinet from Rompkey when he was appointed mines minister. He will now be in a position to oppose Newfoundland Premier Brian Peckford’s claim to full jurisdiction over the development of offshore oil and gas.
In making the Ontario appointments, Trudeau had to choose from a large number of strong and ambitious Toronto MPs, and he picked three respected back-benchers. The new minister of state for finance, Roy MacLaren, will act as second-in-command to
Finance Minister Marc Lalonde. He has been a foreign service officer, an executive of Massey-Ferguson and is the publisher of Canadian Business magazine. MacLaren was in Britain when his appointment was announced and will not be officially sworn-in until he returns. David Collenette inherited the multiculturalism ministry. Although the department has fewer than 40 employees, it is an important ministry because of its ability to cater to the ethnic voters who have traditionally voted Liberal. David Smith’s appointment to the small business ministry, although a junior cabinet post, will provide him with the chance to claim some credit for fostering the economic recovery, which the Liberals believe will help them capture support in the next election. Said Smith: “I know I’m going to be expected to do a lot of communicating with the business community.”
The only real surprise among the internal cabinet shifts was the departure of 43-year-old Lloyd Axworthy from the employment portfolio, where he had won Trudeau’s respect. The prime minister assured the former university professor from Winnipeg that he had been slotted for the troublesome transport portfolio because he was the only western MP in cabinet—and his new assignment will involve forcing legislation to alter the Crow freight rate through the House early in the new session.
Axworthy displaced 58-year-old veteran Jean-Luc Pepin, who struggled with a portfolio that often overwhelmed him. “I’m going to miss the whole damn thing—I would have liked another few months,” he said. Pepin was demoted to
minister of state for external affairs, which places him under the wing of External Affairs Minister Allan MacEachen, a position that he may soon find intolerable. Ambitious Toronto minister John Roberts will become a key economic decision-maker in his new role as employment minister. In the environment ministry, Roberts frequently made headway with the Americans on the issue of acid rain. But now he will have to try to avoid the unpleasant publicity resulting from the persistently high unemployment rate. Roberts will also play an important role as the regional minister responsible for Toronto, which will give him a platform to promote his own leadership ambitions.
At Employment, Roberts will inherit a job creation masterplan that was stitched together by Axworthy and Industry Minister Ed Lumley. Since last spring Lumley and Axworthy, who were seatmates in the House of Commons, have been identifying industries with potential to hire new workers and devising training programs to fit them to the new jobs.
Roberts and Lumley will share a common dilemma. An economic recovery does not cure the deeply rooted deficiencies of the industrial base or the labor market. Even if the economy were booming, economists estimate that the country would still be left with an unemployment rate of between eight and nine per cent (compared with the current 12 per cent).
It was the plight of the unemployed that brought Axworthy, Lumley, other cabinet colleagues and two dozen bureaucrats, academics, businessmen and a labor leader together recently at the
Laurentian resort of Val Morin, 75 km northwest of Montreal. The weekend think tank turned out to be Axworthy’s swan song as employment minister. But he went out in a storm of controversy when he said that the job market will never be as flexible as it was before the recession. As a result, said Axworthy, workers should be prepared to share the available jobs. His remarks produced an indignant outcry from business and labor leaders. In an interview before his new appointment, Axworthy said, “At least I have people thinking about the issue of full employment.”
Roberts takes over the employment portfolio at a difficult time. Axworthy was able to keep his political reputation intact during the nation’s highest unemployment in half a century by showing compassion for the jobless, introducing new schemes and expanding benefits for the unemployed. But the new minister, by contrast, inherits an economy on the mend. “The recovery sets a very different signal for the employment minister,” Axworthy said. “Instead of rescuing the worst off, he has to look ahead, making changes in the way we organize work. That’s a more risky venture.”
The remaining portfolio switches were more cosmetic than substantive. Notable was the elevation of 49-yearold Judy Eróla from the junior mines ministry to the consumer and corporate affairs portfolio. She will, however, retain her responsibility for the status of women. The promotion clearly pleased her. “Not at all shabby, as they say,” she bubbled. She replaced Montreal veteran André Ouellet, 44, who was shifted sideways to labor after an up-and-down political career. That move knocked Toronto’s lacklustre Charles Caccia, 53, out of labor into the environment portfolio. Meanwhile, Supply and Services Minister Jean-Jacques Blais, 43, replaced Lamontagne at Defence and Minister of State for External Affairs Charles Lapointe, 39, moved into Blais’s former slot.
For all that, 23 of Trudeau’s 35 cabinet ministers retained their current portfolios. And after last week’s shuffle each of the appointees predictably pledged to faithfully support the government’s current policies. “This is clearly a big day for mediocrity,” declared Conservative Leader Brian Mulroney. “You can’t get any good results when you shuffle from a bad deck.” New Democratic Party Leader Ed Broadbent agreed. “This suggests no changes in major policies for the government, which is regrettable,” he said. The next act in the Liberal drama may be by far the most important: when Prime Minister Trudeau declares whether he will retire soon or stay to fight the next election.
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