OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that he intends to name his new cabinet in October, bring Parliament back “before the end of fall,” and implement the promised federal vaccine mandate as soon as possible.
At his first major press conference since the Sept. 20 federal election, which saw Canadians hand the Liberals another minority, Trudeau said Tuesday that he spoke earlier that day with Gov. Gen. Mary May Simon about his intention to form the next government.
“We just got through an election where Canadians made it very clear the kinds of things they want us to work on, and I’m looking forward to getting into it,” Trudeau said. “The exact dates still to be worked out, but we are busy getting into the business of delivering on an ambitious agenda that Canadians laid out.”
The prime minister said it has been a busy first week post-election, citing the recent freeing of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor as well as having calls with provincial premiers and U.S. President Joe Biden.
Heading into the 44th Parliament, the Liberals will have 159 seats, which is four more than they went into the campaign with. The Conservative seat count has not changed, with 119 MPs elected, the Bloc Quebecois and NDP both gained one seat with 33 and 25 MPs elected respectively, while the Green Party will continue to hold two of the 338 seats in the House of Commons.
“This election mattered,” Trudeau said, shooting down suggestions that not much changed as a result of the 36-day and estimated $610-million summer election.
“I’m really excited about all the things that we’re going to get to do as a Parliament, and as a government in the coming years and I think Canadians see that this election was really important.”
The first batch of the 52 newly-elected MPs have already begun their orientation sessions on Parliament Hill and virtually. The vast majority of those returning in the fall are incumbent MPs.
While he has other key cabinet decisions to make, Trudeau has already asked Chrystia Freeland to continue as deputy prime minister and finance minister, which she has accepted.
The prime minister said that he’ll be having conversations with the rest of his desired ministerial roster in the coming weeks as he works to regain gender balance in his post-election front-bench.
“Lots of work ahead… alongside Chrystia, and to come, an extraordinary team of Liberal ministers and MPs,” he said, with Freeland standing next to him.
While his current ministers continue to hold their titles unless re-assigned, Trudeau has spots to fill left vacant by ministers who were defeated or who didn’t run again. He also may want to recalibrate the regional distribution to account for picking up new seats in the Prairies.
“I will be seeking, as I always do to ensure that there is a proper regional distribution, that there is a range of skills and diversity around the table,” Trudeau said. During the campaign he was non-committal about whether he has a specific target for representation of Black, Indigenous, and people of colour in his cabinet.
Other key decisions he’ll have to make in the coming weeks include appointing a strong roster to key House of Commons positions given the minority dynamics, such as the chief government whip—or the “counter” who ensures there are always enough MPs in their seats in the House, especially during key votes— and parliamentary secretaries.
Parliamentary secretaries are MPs from the governing caucus, who act as liaisons between cabinet ministers and the House of Commons.
Unlike cabinet, these roles expire when a federal election is called, so there are no current sitting parliamentary secretaries. The naming of this second tier will likely follow in the days after cabinet is unveiled.
PLANS TO GO ‘HARDER’ ON PRIORITIES
The prime minister said that he chose to visit a vaccine clinic before taking questions on Tuesday because getting through the COVID-19 crisis remains his top priority. While there, he spoke with folks who were rolling up their sleeves for their first, second, and third doses. Some of those just getting their initial shot cited the proof of vaccination requirements when Trudeau asked what prompted them to get vaccinated.
Specifically, Trudeau restated his promised intention to implement a federal vaccine mandate that will include making COVID-19 vaccination a requirement for federal workers, and making sure that anyone aged 12 and older who wants to board a domestic plane or train be fully vaccinated.
The prime minister also said that his government will move ahead with an international vaccine passport for fully immunized Canadians who want to travel abroad, foot the bill for provinces who have already gone ahead with their own vaccine certificate systems, and impose criminal sanctions on those who harass health-care workers.
Pandemic aside, the other major focuses for the federal government will be implementing the suite of $10-day child care deals, introducing 10 days of paid sick leave for those in federally-regulated sectors whose employees don’t already offer it, and continue promised work on climate change, Indigenous reconciliation, housing affordability, and economic growth.
On all of these issues, Trudeau believes he now has a strong mandate from Canadians to “go even faster, and harder, and deeper.”
“Canadians were very clear that they want those progressive big, bold ideas to be delivered by their Parliament and by their government, and that’s exactly what we’re going to work on,” Trudeau said.
As was the case in 2019, Trudeau will have to look to the opposition parties for support in order to pass legislation and maintain the confidence of the House of Commons. The most likely dance partners will once again be the NDP and the Bloc.
While the Greens are already on the hunt for their next leader, the Conservative Party and its members are in the midst of a conversation about whether their leader Erin O’Toole should continue in his job despite more Canadians voting for his party than cast ballots for the Liberals.
In an email to supporters on Tuesday, O’Toole said it is because of the Conservative Party that the Liberals were prevented from forming a majority government, and restated his commitment to being the leader in the next election, which he cautioned could be just months away.
“One week ago, Canadians went to the polls to pass judgment on Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government. Mr. Trudeau expected Canadians to give him a majority. Canadians said no to a Liberal majority – but they also said we still have some work to do to earn their trust,” he wrote.
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