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Trudeau’s cabinet to be smaller and more diverse

Prime-minister-designate Justin Trudeau heads out trick-or-treating with his wife and children on Halloween in Ottawa. On Wednesday his first cabinet will be sworn in at Rideau Hall.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Prime-minister-designate Justin Trudeau has picked a small cabinet that will leave a number of Liberal veterans on the back benches, opting for a group of ministers that more accurately reflects Canada's diverse population, sources said.

The choices were made last week in a federal building that houses the Canadian Forces Recruitment Centre in downtown Ottawa, where would-be ministers were grilled on their personal and financial background for 45 minutes by members of Mr. Trudeau's transition team. However, the group interviewed more people than Mr. Trudeau ended up picking for cabinet positions, leaving high-profile Liberals getting a bad-news phone call from their leader late last week, said a source involved in the process.

In the latest high-profile move by the Liberal Party, the public has been invited to witness the arrival of the new ministers on the grounds of Rideau Hall on Wednesday. The event will be the latest attempt by the Liberal Party to present the image of a government that does things differently, setting a clear contrast with its Conservative predecessor but also past Liberal governments.

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The morning after winning a majority on Oct. 19, Mr. Trudeau surprised a number of his constituents when he went to shake hands at a metro station in his riding of Papineau. He then headed to Ottawa for a news conference, promising to continue holding media availabilities that were a rarity under outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Liberal transition team has since largely operated in secrecy, receiving classified briefings from federal bureaucrats on everything from national security to the government's fiscal situation. In addition, the bureaucracy has studied the Liberal electoral platform and its various campaign pledges, offering Mr. Trudeau a series of options to implement his promises.

The transition team is headed by former deputy minister Peter Harder, and includes Mr. Trudeau's top two advisers, Katie Telford and Gerald Butts. In addition, Mr. Trudeau called upon Marc-André Blanchard, the chief executive officer of the law firm McCarthy Tétrault, to interview his potential cabinet nominees.

All would-be ministers went through the 45-minute interview designed to determine whether they were suited for the job, but also whether they had skeletons in their closets. The questions drilled deeper than the green-lighting process that all Liberal candidates went through before they were allowed to place their names on the ballot, sources said.

The goal of the process was to find out whether any would-be minister faced a potential conflict of interest, but also to remind the candidates to be careful of everyone in their "constellation" of family members and friends if they become ministers, a source involved in the process said.

A member of the transition team said he was impressed by the high level of trust between Mr. Trudeau and his top two advisers, but also the speed with which the prime-minister-designate reacted to their advice.

"He is the one who decides, it's not Gerry or Katie. He is the master of the decision-making process," said the transition-team member.

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The source added that the process was leaner than the transition between the Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin governments. "It's clearly more efficient, on all decisions," the source said.

Mr. Trudeau ended up picking a cabinet with representation from all 10 provinces and Canada's North, and will include the same number of male and female ministers. The cabinet is also expected to be ethnically diverse, with members of the Liberal team saying the group photo will "reflect Canada's diversity."

The Liberals said they were stunned to see the high quality of candidates who wanted to work in various ministerial offices. As a result, the party has set up a website to receive applications from people who want to work with the crop of mostly rookie ministers.

In order to change the way things work in Ottawa, Mr. Trudeau will also need to reform the inner workings of the Prime Minister's Office. He has criticized the trend that started under his father's government in the late 1960s and 1970s, in which ministers slowly lost their authority to unelected officials.

"The serious concentration of power in the PMO has not served the country well," a Liberal official said.

A veteran of the Chrétien PMO said that Mr. Trudeau should make it a priority to restore the personality of the top members of his government.

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"People find cabinet ministers now to be faceless and nameless, because they are not allowed to develop public personas.They have to toe the line on everything," he said. "A minister who is seen as an advocate for a certain point of view or constituency is not a bad thing, because you want to have that tension and balance in the cabinet."

Ms. Telford is expected to be the chief of staff in the PMO, with Mr. Butts acting as the top adviser on communications and policy issues.

With a promise to hold more free votes, and to let parliamentary committees select their own chairs, the Trudeau Liberals are vowing that the PMO will "let MPs be MPs." There is a recognition that the change could generate negative headlines, but the hope is that over time, the new way of doing things in the Trudeau government will become the norm.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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