Trudeau appoints 'a Cabinet that looks like Canada'

New Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan being sworn in at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Canada on Wednesday. The former police officer, who has served three stints in Afghanistan, was born in India.
New Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan being sworn in at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Canada on Wednesday. The former police officer, who has served three stints in Afghanistan, was born in India. PHOTO: REUTERS

Diverse team a blend of youth and veterans which includes immigrants and 15 women

OTTAWA • Born in India and elected to Parliament for the first time in last month's election, Mr Harjit Sajjan is illustrative of the younger, more diverse Cabinet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has created.

Mr Sajjan, 45, a former police officer and veteran of three military deployments to Afghanistan, was named defence minister on Wednesday, bringing first-hand expertise to one of the country's top Cabinet positions.

Mr Trudeau, 43, kicked off his majority government with some controversy because of his decision to name an equal number of men and women to a slimmed-down Cabinet, the first time gender parity has been achieved in Canada's team of ministers.

The Cabinet, 30 ministers plus Mr Trudeau, included rookie politician and corporate executive Bill Morneau, 53, as finance minister and former Liberal leader Stephane Dion, 60, as foreign minister. The split between the old and the new was reflected throughout the team.

"It's an incredible pleasure for me to be before you here today to present to Canada a Cabinet that looks like Canada," Mr Trudeau told reporters after he was sworn in with his team, which includes immigrants, aboriginals, religious minorities, a quadriplegic and 15 women.

Mr Trudeau, the first son of a prime minister to take office in Canada and the second-youngest to hold the office in the country's history, has grabbed international attention for his good looks and retail approach to politics. Asked why he felt gender equality in the Cabinet was important, he said simply: "Because it is 2015."

Mr Trudeau will have Parliament meet from Dec 3 to 11. He intends to push through, in time for the new year, a tax cut for the middle class and a tax hike on top earners, senior minister Dominic LeBlanc said. Refugee Minister John McCallum said the government still intends to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by year end.

Cheering crowds, estimated at 4,000, lined the approach to the governor-general's residence where the swearing-in ceremony took place, as Mr Trudeau threw open the venue to the public. He had promised "sunny ways" during the campaign and the weather cooperated for the event.

He was accompanied by his wife and their three young children, as well as his mother, Mrs Margaret Trudeau, who gave birth to him and his two brothers while his father - Mr Pierre Trudeau - was prime minister.

The appointments of Mr Morneau and Mr Dion to two top portfolios was seen as a move to reassure corporate Canada and international partners, given Mr Dion's deep political experience and Mr Morneau's business background. Mr Morneau was a former corporate executive who also headed a major public policy think-tank. He was elected to Parliament for the first time in the election that brought Mr Trudeau's Liberals to power.

But with much of the Cabinet new to politics, some said Mr Trudeau risks opening the government to rookie mistakes that could detract from his agenda.

"It seems as though the balance is tipped towards youth as opposed to grizzled veterans, but to have a few there, I think, is important and helpful," said Dr Gerald Baier, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia.

Mr Trudeau has already laid out the major planks of his economic plan, which includes running three years of Budget deficits to boost infrastructure spending in a bid to stimulate Canada's flagging economy.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2015, with the headline 'Trudeau appoints 'a Cabinet that looks like Canada''. Print Edition | Subscribe