Today was a historical day in Canada. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was sworn in as the 23rd prime minister of Canada after his party won a majority of seats at our last federal elections. What made the day momentous and historical was the announcement of his new cabinet. He stripped the cabinet to thirty positions and kept his word to promote gender equality by appointing fifteen men and fifteen women.
Predictably, as soon as he announced he was going to promote parity, suddenly many wondered about the role of merit on cabinet appointments. The Beaverton, Canada’s satire news outlet, made much of that, of course. Cabinet appointments are seldom about merit and much more about political considerations. Stephen Harper was known for choosing people to cabinet based on how willing they were to promote his agenda unquestionably. So making appointments based on promoting gender equality seems as good a reason as any. I have to confess I was looking forward to find out if Justin Trudeau was going to keep that promise and which women would be appointed.
Trudeau did not disappoint. The new cabinet is not only marked by gender parity but also feature a number of indigenous, Southeast Asian, and Muslim MPs. Former Crown prosecutor and First Nations chief Jody Wilson-Raybould was appointed minister of justice and combat veteran Harjit Singh Sajjan became minister of defense. Hunter Tootoo, an Inuit MP, became minister of fisheries, Carla Qualtrough, legally blind from birth and an Paralympic medallist is the new minister of sports, the list goes on. I’m particularly happy to see Stéphane Dion, a former Liberal leader, as foreign affairs minister.
The ceremony itself set a new tone. He invited Canadians to Rideau Hall. Screens were set up outside so the public could watch what is normally a private ceremony. The new government also signalled a new recognition of indigenous people: cabinet was led into Rideau Hall by 12 year-old Cree drummer Theland Kicknosway and the ceremony was closed by three métis jiggers. After Trudeau was sworn in, two young Inuit throatsingers stole the show.
Afterward, the new PM walked among the crowd, gave an interview in which he answered a question about why gender parity was important to him with “because it is 2015” (BAM!), and in the early afternoon he met high school students via Google hangout.
Needless to say, after years of a government that shunned public participation and adopted a generally more negative and less inclusive tone, it is certainly a breath of fresh air to see such cabinet. I noticed a feeling of giddiness among friends, even among those who did not vote Liberal, akin to the excitement that followed Obama’s first election in 2008. Of course, Trudeau will not be able to keep all his promises and we are all bound to get disappointed sooner or later. For now, however, I intend to ride that wave of hopefulness. Even if Trudeau does nothing else other than change the tone of politics in this country, that in itself is enough.