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Judge Martin's cabinet on the job titles and record, not on map locations

By Walter Robinson
web posted December 15, 2003

Paul Martin leaves his first meeting of Cabinet as Prime Minister on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on December 13
Paul Martin leaves his first meeting of Cabinet as Prime Minister on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on December 13

Paul Martin has unveiled his government and here is the Reader's Digest version of the composition of his new Cabinet: 10 Ministers have been carried over from the Chretien administration and 17 backbenchers (including Paul Martin) have been elevated to the world of chauffeurs and Challenger jets. In addition, the Ministry is rounded out with 27 parliamentary secretaries.

In media scrums (which should be abandoned due to their vacuity), after the swearing-in ceremony each new Minister said essentially same thing … "I'll take my job very seriously … I'm looking forward to this new task … Paul Martin is a great guy." Blah, blah, blah. Instead of this pointless scrum, they should have headed home and buried their heads in briefing books along with meeting with their Deputy Ministers in the public service.

The message that Paul Martin is sending is one of "engagement and inclusion" according to Ralph Goodale, a Saskatchewan MP and newly minted Minister of Finance. He, along with Edmonton MP Anne McClellan, who moves from Health to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness look to be the big winners in this new government.

Of course, these two appointments are designed to deflate legitimate and measurable grievances in Western Canada that the Chretien government basically ignored issues west of Wawa, Ontario. From softwood lumber hardships in BC to democratic reform demands centred in Alberta to real agriculture issues from rural depopulation to unfair U.S. and European subsidies that our hurting farmers across the prairies, real and festering concerns exist.

Both the short-lived John Turner administration and the Mulroney government saw MPs from the West occupy prominent positions around the Cabinet table, yet both governments were eventually electorally rejected by the West.

The message is clear: It is not the riding location that assuages or solves regional grievances – be they Western-, Quebec- or Atlantic-based – it is the policies and record of the Cabinet and the government that diminish or fuel the fire of regional complaints in Canada.

Only time will tell, whether this Cabinet is radically different than the tired and ethically challenged Chretien administration that governed poorly over the past decade. However, there are indications that the direction of the Martin administration will likely be costly for taxpayers if the new "interventionist titles" in Mr. Martin's rejigged machinery of government are any indication.

For example, Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) – an unwieldy $70 billion department – has been busted into the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development and the Department of Social Development. And if Liza Frulla's comments (the new Social Development Minster) about importing several Quebec-styled provincial social programs into the federal domain come to true, look out, the sticker shock will be big.

Yet to get a grasp of the very interventionist regime that Paul Martin envisages for Canada, one need's to examine the job titles of the 27 parliamentary secretaries and their "special emphasis" responsibilities. From science to entrepreneurship to public-private partnerships to value-added industries (doesn't everybody try to add value?), it seems that for every problem or issue imaginable, Mr. Martin is opening a window of government to tackle and/or tinker with said issue.

This approach was disastrously employed by former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau for 16 years and landed the country in big heap of national debt. While it is only day one of the Martin era, the watchwords for taxpayers must be "caution and vigilance." And hold on to your wallets!

Walter Robinson is the Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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