Much has been made about Justin Trudeau’s campaign promise to have a Cabinet with gender parity. The promise evoked considerable fears that selecting more women meant selecting less talent. The argument, when looking at statistics, had some merit given a female MPs odds on paper of being in cabinet were 3x that of a male MP. The argument cannot simply be labelled “mansplaining”. However, it can only really stand as an attack on Trudeau if his equal-gendered Cabinet is less merit based than its predecessors. Did Trudeau, by picking less men, really fail to pick the best people for the job?
Merit is a tough thing to define. It depends so much on moral values and what each of us expects a department. Lists do not reflect this in the least. But lists are fun. And politics are all about winners and losers, just ask Donald Trump. The quality of a Cabinet can only be described in relative terms. So without further ado, here is a head to head comparison of the biggest names in Stephen Harper’s only majority Cabinet (per the original appointment, pre-shuffles) and Justin Trudeau’s:
Conservatives 2011: John Baird
Baird had held several big roles between 2006 and 2011, including environment minister, transport minister, president of the treasury board, House leader, and guy who yells at stuff. He was a trusted member of the Conservative team. However this selection came as a bit of a surprise. Baird had no real foreign policy experience. The then 41 year old Baird had spent his entire career in politics in the Ontario legislative assembly. He was a lifetime Progressive Conservative who in all likelihood was being rewarded for his hard work and dedication to the party.
Liberals 2015 Stéphane Dion
Dion has held several big roles between 1996 and 2008, including intergovernmental affairs minister, environment minister and party leader. He is a trusted member of the Liberal team. His selection comes only as a major surprise because most assumed his career to be over following his disastrous bid to be Prime Minister in 2008 (#carbontax #tbt). Dion previously taught political science at the University of Moncton and the University of Montreal. He chaired the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Montreal in 2005. He is a long-time Liberal who is being rewarded for his hard work with a position his resume is well tailored to.
Merit Edge: Liberals
Justice Minister and Attorney General
Conservatives: Rob Nicholson
Nicholson was a lawyer for a bit before starting his foray into politics in 1984 at the age of 32. He served various conservative parties at various levels up to the present. He joined the newly formed Conservative Party of Canada after its inception in 2004. When the CPC assumed power in 2006 Nicholson became House Leader. A near-career politician, his selection as Justice Minister and Attorney General was justified by a law degree and little work experience. He was rewarded for party loyalty.
Liberals: Jody Wilson-Raybould
On the surface the first Aboriginal person to serve as Attorney General seems like a token hire. With a Trudeau campaign promise to have an inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women, a native woman leading the charge is bound to look good. However, just because she would be the ideal symbolic hire does not mean she is unqualified for the job. She has been a crown prosecutor in Vancouver. She has overseen negotiations on treaties between First Nations and the government. She was elected Regional Chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations in 2009. She has experience in politics, but not a long history of obvious partisan allegiance. The Liberals needed a hire that was well versed in the Canadian legal system. One that could navigate the troublesome legal battles with Indigenous peoples. Wilson-Raybould knows a thing or two about these issues. She’d be the best choice for the job if she were a white male.
Merit Edge: Liberals
Conservatives: Peter Mackay
Mackay was leader of the Progressive Conservative Party when it merged with the Canadian Alliance. By 2011 he had been a powerful figure in Canadian politics for some time. He merited a high level position. He had already served as Minister of Defence for 4 years prior to 2011. He was a prominent name in Atlantic Canadian politics. He could not be excluded from one of the biggest posts in the country.
Liberals: Harjit Sajjan
Sajjan is a former soldier having fought in Bosnia and Afghanistan. He was a police officer in Vancouver for 11 years. He had a rougher childhood which saw him surrounded by a number of future criminals and gang members. He turned this around into an impressive military and public service career. However he is a first time MP. His experience in policy is slim. His edge over Mackay is in direct military experience, which is not much of an edge given Trudeau is scaling down the Canadian war efforts.
Merit Edge: Conservatives
Aboriginal (Indigenous) Affairs and Northern Development
Conservatives: John Duncan
Duncan was a major player in the shaping of the Conservative Party on offshore oil and gas. He was the representative of a Harper government whose relationship with Indigenous peoples was shaky at best. He took the “Development” part of his job description more seriously than he did the “Aboriginal Affairs” part; and he was hired to do exactly that. If this role is about working for indigenous people’s rights he was not a great choice. He was however selected on merit, in line with the pro-industrial development Conservative Party agenda.
Liberals: Carolyn Bennett
Bennett is long time politician with plenty of experience in this portfolio. She is a doctor who can claim to have the kind of expertise necessary to try and combat the countless health problems facing remote First Nation’s communities. She is also whiter than crocs and socks, dispelling any claim that this was a symbolic hire. She is a woman with a resume, not a skin tone, tailored to the job.
Merit Edge: Tie, Depending on whether this department is more about Indigenous Affairs or Northern Development either appointee is arguably better. Priorities are key here.
Conservatives: James Moore
Moore has a political science degree from the University of Northern British Columbia. He became an MP in the crucial Vancouver suburb riding of Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam in 2000, at age 24, a riding he held until 2015. He is a career politician and in 2011 was a rising star in the Conservative Party. Why he was named Heritage minister was not based off merit. He was chosen because he could be trusted to spearhead cuts to the CBC. How can the Liberals expect a woman to do a better job protecting Canadian heritage than the guy whose reign saw Hockey Night in Canada Theme leave the CBC? Moore was the perfect choice for Heritage in Harper’s Old Stock Cabinet.
Liberals: Melanie Jolie
Jolie is a former mayoral candidate in Montreal, which might be kind of good place for artsy crap. She has served on the board of Montreal Contemporary Art Museum, and the board for the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award. If arts and culture is part of Canadian heritage then she might be an okay choice. She is also close to Trudeau and helped organize his leadership campaign. Trudeau picked a friend in Joly, but it was a friend who merited the position.
Merit Edge: Liberals
Conservatives: Jim Flaherty
Flaherty had been the Finance Minister since 2006. He had done a pretty good job. Remember how much Harper boasted about the Conservative economic record through the global recession? This was the guy in charge of that. The late Flaherty had a state funeral after his passing in April 2014 for a reason. He was a damn good public servant.
Liberals: Bill Morneau
Morneau is a very wealthy man. He knows a thing or two about money. He has been on a number of boards of major companies and even a hospital. He has policy experience: he designed Katherine Wynne’s Ontario Pension Plan. The same Katherine Wynne who very vocally supported Trudeau in Ontario. Morneau’s closeness to Wynne and substantial financial influence give his appointment the look of a favour being repaid to a loyal team member. He may well have the credentials for the job but he also is being compared to a big name in Canadian politics in Flaherty.
Merit Edge: Conservatives
Citizenship and Immigration (and Refugees)
Conservatives: Jason Kenney
Kenney has been a lifelong social conservative. He has been a central player in the Conservative Party for some time. He was rewarded with a number of high profile Cabinet positions. Kenney entered politics at a very young age. His non-political experience is scarce. His political resume in 2011 was substantial.
Liberals: John McCallum
McCallum was a former vice-president and chief economist at RBC. He served in Cabinet in the early 2000s as national defence minister, veteran’s affairs minister, and national revenue minister. Success in business and a wide range of political experience are at his back.
Merit Edge: Tie, these are two impressive figures, with very different career paths, neither of which have or had much particular experience with the subject.
Conservatives: Leona Aglukkaq
Hailing from Inuvik Nunavut Aglukkaq was the First Inuk in Canadian history to be appointed to Cabinet. She was a long-time public servant in Nunavut. Although her experience in healthcare matters isn’t really clear. She would have been an interesting candidate for Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development, but she must have been too indigenous to be that over John Duncan.
Liberals: Jane Philpott
Philpott is a first time MP from the all-important riding of Markham-Stouffville, which probably helped her case here. She has been a family doctor in Markham for nearly two decades. She also is an associate professor at the University of Toronto. She has done work with NGOs around the world including Medecins Sans Frontières. If the priority for Cabinet ministers is political experience she is not an ideal choice. If the priority for health minister is medical experience she has a pretty serious edge.
Merit Edge: Liberals
President of the Treasury
Conservatives: Tony Clement
Clement was a lawyer by trade and became He was President of the Progressive Conservatives Party of Ontario in 1990, and served in Ontario Premier Sam Harris government. His degrees are in political science and Law. Clement rose to prominence by beating Liberal Cabinet Minister Andy Mitchell in his Ontario riding Parry Sound—Muskoka. He didn’t have much of an economic background however. His loyalty and previous big victory got him the job, not expertise.
Liberals: Scott Brison
Brison was originally a Progressive Conservative before joining the Liberals. He has been in Parliament since 1997, except for a short stint where he resigned so PC leader Joe Clark could sit. He switched to the Liberals following the formation of the Conservative Party of Canada. A move he voted for but then opposed because of the dominance of the socially conservative Canadian Alliance, or because he was a power hungry opportunist. Nevertheless his degree is in commerce. He is a former investment banker, and has sat on numerous House of Commons committees regarding economic affairs.
Merit Edge: Liberals—Brison might not have ideological loyalty but he has expertise in the field.
Conservatives: Denis Lebel
A Conservative from Quebec. A nearly necessary selection given how few Conservatives were elected from La Belle Province in 2011. Lebel was a political light weight matched up here with a Liberal heavy weight.
Liberals: Marc Garneau
Marc Garneau is overqualified for this post. One of the most senior MPs in Parliament, he would have made a solid choice for nearly any Cabinet position. He was also the first Canadian in space and was nice enough to do a hilarious interview with us.
Merit Edge: Liberals
Conservatives: Lisa Raitt
Raitt was President and CEO of the Toronto Port Authority. She had strong ties to the Conservative Party during her time there. Time that also included her mismanaging upwards of $80,000 in expenses in 2008. The issue did spill over to Parliament where Raitt was defended by her the likes of then Transport Minister John Baird. 2008 was when she decided to run for the Conservative Party and she received a Cabinet post as Minister of Natural Resources following her election. She therefore had both Cabinet and business experience by 2011.
Liberals: Maryann Mihychuk
Mihychuk a Manitoba NDPer, worked in the mineral industry for a number of years. She founded Women in Mining Canada a non-profit that is “focused on advancing the interest of women in the mineral exploration and mining sector.” She worked for a number of years as a geologist in Newfoundland and Labrador, a region that will be looking to the labour minister for help. She has political experience at the provincial level and is not as green as most of the first time MPs. This isn’t the most spectacular hire, but she doesn’t have no claim to the job.
Merit Edge: Tie, Raitt had much more high profile experience, but she also had enough controversy and connections to make this close, and Mihychuk is no slouch.
Conservatives: Peter Kent
Kent has one of the most impressive resumes in Canadian media. He was anchorman of CBC’s the National, a producer at Global TV. He traveled the world and covered the big issues. He was also a recognizable MP from Thornhill Ontario so he had to get something cool.
Liberals: Catherine McKenna
McKenna beat prominent NDP MP Paul Dewar in the riding of Ottawa Centre. She founded the non-profit Canadian Lawyers abroad. Her plethora of experience in international development is impressive. However her bio on the Liberal website didn’t mention environment once. Granted, Environment mogul Stephane Dion was already appointed to Foreign Affairs.
Merit Edge: Conservatives, but only very slightly, neither really has(d) any environmental experience, but only one party really had that near the top of their platform. (Hint it wasn’t Stephen “drill baby drill” Harper’s Party)
Leader of the House
Conservatives: Peter Van Loan
Van Loan on paper was a very solid choice. An Osgoode law school graduate who worked for a prominent Law firm and taught at the University of Toronto he had non-governmental experience. His political experience was significant. He was president of both the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario and of Canada in the early 2000s. He had also served as Minister of Public Safety, Minister of International Trade, and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, between 2006 and 2011. This was as much as choice based on merit as Harper could make.
Liberals: Dominic Leblanc
Leblanc has a Law Masters from Harvard. He is the son of former Governor General Roméo Leblanc. He has been a reasonably prominent figure in the Liberal party for some time. However he has never held a Cabinet post previously. He is also a long-time friend of Justin Trudeau. As well as being an MP from the Maritimes, which the Liberals undoubtedly need to reward for voting 100% red this October.
Merit Edge: Conservatives
Final tally: Liberals: 6, Conservatives: 4, Ties: 3 (Open to interpretation).
The Conservatives didn’t pick many ministers on merit. The Conservatives picked a Cabinet that rewarded Party allegiance over anything else. The Liberals didn’t pick everyone based on merit. Yet the least merit based hires by the Liberals for the most part were not their women. Picking from a smaller pool of women does not mean that they can’t swim with the big fish. What merits a position is arbitrary. What is clear is that the women selected appear to be at least as ready as their predecessors. What more can we really ask for?