Cabinet shuffle will not move needle on western alienation

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s post-election cabinet shuffle suggests the Liberal government is not blind to regional differences and anger in the West.

Despite that clarity, Trudeau’s government continues to show a lack of urgency in addressing the issues causing that anger.

By appointing Winnipeg MP Jim Carr as a special representative of the Prairies and moving former Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to deputy prime minister and intergovernmental affairs minister, Trudeau tried to placate Alberta and Saskatchewan, which were shut out of the Liberal caucus.

“(Carr) will be able to focus entirely on that relationship, engage with the Prairies in a strong and present way,” said Trudeau following the swearing-in ceremony, adding Carr will report directly to cabinet.

Freeland, who is respected in most, if not all, corners of Canadian politics, laid out for reporters some of her vision for the new role.

“The real challenge today, I think, for our country, is for our country to understand that we are facing such big issues in the world today, that we really have to face them as Team Canada,” she said, adding it is important to “really listen hard” to the West and other provinces.

So, as a start, she will listen to the West and encourage teamwork.

Neither is likely to move the needle in addressing the issues causing frustration in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

If anything, it demonstrates there is no sense of urgency in ensuring Alberta and Saskatchewan residents are placated.

Surely the Liberal government has found some time since 2015 to hear in detail the concerns surrounding carbon pricing, equalization and a deficiency of international market access (read: pipelines) for prairie products.

Is there really anything Trudeau expects Freeland and Carr to learn that he hasn’t already heard?

There were efforts from the Prime Minister’s Office to subtly — and occasionally, not so subtly — remind reporters of the efforts made to calm western tensions in building the new cabinet.

It was almost impossible to miss out on hearing at least once that Freeland (currently residing in and representing Toronto) grew up in Alberta.

You could almost hear the desperation in newly minted Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson’s voice when he repeated, once again, his time growing up, attending university and working in Saskatchewan before eventually becoming a Vancouver-based MP.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe effectively argued this is all irrelevant, telling reporters, “it’s not about the people that are around the table, it’s about the decisions.”

When it comes to those decisions, the Liberals are showing no signs of changing course. Having Carr or Freeland on the ground listening to angry prairie folks won’t change that.

There is no easy solution to win back the support Trudeau had in the Prairies to start with. And, given the electoral map, there is little incentive to make doing so a priority.

Simply put, Quebec is more important to the Liberals than the Prairies. That is where the seats are, and if a party has to pick between gaining support between the two, it picks Quebec every time.

Which is why any efforts to placate the West were trumped by efforts to please Quebec (10 of the 36 cabinet ministers are from Quebec, including anti-pipeline activist Steven Guilbeault).

Token cabinet postings meant to appease Saskatchewan and Alberta voters will have little effect in addressing their concerns. Gestures like promising to listen are just that — gestures.

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