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ALAN HOLMAN: A different era for Atlantic cabinet ministers

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc, right, chats with Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor at a meeting about the Atlantic Growth Strategy in Summerside on Tuesday.
Dominic LeBlanc, right, chats with fellow Liberal MP Ginette Petitpas Taylor in Summerside. - Contributed

There’s been a lot of talk in the media about the alienation of the West. With no Liberal MPs, Alberta and Saskatchewan have no members, therefore no voice in the federal cabinet.

This is not unusual. Of the 33 federal elections since Alberta joined Confederation in 1908, in more than a third of them (13), Albertans shunned the Liberals completely. In the five campaigns Trudeau the Elder ran as prime minister, only in his first were there any Liberals elected to parliament. He was shut out in the other four.

In 1921, Mackenzie King won the government without any Alberta MPs. Mr. King quickly appointed a former Alberta premier, Charles Stewart, to his cabinet and then arranged for Mr. Stewart to run, and win, a byelection in a Quebec riding.

Charles Stewart wasn’t the only one. In 1940, Mr. King appointed Nova Scotia Premier Angus L. MacDonald as minister of naval services. Mr. MacDonald also was elected in a byelection, but not in Nova Scotia. He became the MP for Kingston, in Ontario.

But, back to the present. While the rest of the country is consuming itself over the West feeling slighted and alienated, Atlantic Canada might not be entirely amiss, if it too felt somewhat ignored.

Donald Savoie is a professor of public administration at the University of Moncton. He’s considered an expert on the federal government.

“The voices from Western Canada will be muted,” he recently told the Toronto Star. “The voices from Atlantic Canada will be a lot quieter, so it’s going to be far more of an Ontario- and Quebec-centric government than it’s ever been.”

In the past, Atlantic Canada did not have quiet voices. Atlantic Canadian cabinet ministers were people of substance; strong voices that the prime ministers listened, and paid attention to. Allan MacEachen from Nova Scotia, Romeo LeBlanc from New Brunswick and John Crosbie from Newfoundland, were strong defenders of the region.

Now, Atlantic Canada has Seamus O’Regan from St. John’s, and, Dominic LeBlanc from Shediac, both friends of Justin Trudeau. Plus, Nova Scotia’s Bernadette Jordan from Lunenburg and the Island’s Lawrence MacAulay.

Four voices in a 37-seat cabinet, six more than the last cabinet of 31. And there still hasn’t been any explanation for dumping Moncton MP Ginette Petitpas Taylor from the cabinet. Yes, the Liberals lost four seats in New Brunswick, but, if anyone was to be dropped, why not Dominic LeBlanc? He’s still recovering from a serious bout of cancer.

Mr. LeBlanc was named president of the Privy Council, an honorary title at best. The last time the Privy Council met was in 1981 to approve the marriage of Prince Charles to Diana. Mr. LeBlanc’s full role is yet to be defined, but recently the Canadian Press reported he would be heading an operations committee to ensure the government’s priorities are met.

Nova Scotia’s Bernadette Jordan is the minister of fisheries. She was briefly the minister of rural economic development. Mrs. Jordan doesn’t have a lot of political experience. She was a fund raiser for a health services organization in Nova Scotia before she was first elected in 2015.

In this parliament, the ministers from the region will likely face heavy questioning from opposition Atlantic MPs.

The prime minister may regret using friendship as a criteria for appointment.

The natural resources minister, Seamus O’Regan – not the strongest performer at the best of times – will have to contend with fellow Newfoundlander Jack Harris, a veteran NDP politician.

And Bernadette Jordan faces another seasoned politician. Conservative Chris d’Entremont served as a minister in five different portfolios, including fisheries, during his time as a provincial politician.

Rob Moore, a former Harper cabinet minister, and two other Conservatives, plus a Green MP, will be focusing on New Brunswick issues.

While no party is in a hurry to defeat the Liberal minority government, that doesn’t mean the opposition will forego embarrassing the ministers. And, the easier the target, the more critical their questioning will be. Some Atlantic ministers could be in for a rough ride.

Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: alanholman19@gmail.com.

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