Narrowly Returned to Power, Trudeau Promises an Activist Government


OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled his new cabinet on Tuesday, in a muted inauguration during which the Canadian leader laid out a sweeping agenda meant to reinvigorate support for his Liberal Party after an underwhelming and unpopular early election in September.

The swearing-in ceremony, dampened by pandemic restrictions and a chilly autumnal rain, was the first major event since the new government was formed by an election held last month that denied Mr. Trudeau the voting majority he had sought in the House of Commons.

The inauguration also came in the aftermath of a misstep by Mr. Trudeau that prompted him to apologize to Indigenous people for having skipped a new holiday recognizing Canada’s history of injustices toward them. The lapse eroded the confidence of some Canadians in his personal judgment.

If Mr. Trudeau felt chastened by Canadians’ rejection of his bid for Parliamentary control, he gave no sign of it in his address on Tuesday. After showing off his new cabinet, he announced renewed commitments to cutting greenhouse gas emissions and advancing reconciliation with Indigenous people, as well as spurring affordable housing and economic growth.

“One of the things we saw very clearly in this election was that Canadians are expecting big things to be done by Parliament and by this government,” Mr. Trudeau said at a news conference. “With a refreshed and reinvigorated team around me, I’m really excited about what we’re going to be able to accomplish.”

Six years after he was first sworn in, Mr. Trudeau finds his reputation these days dimmed from that of the golden politician idolized by many Canadians and much of the world when he first led his Liberal Party to an overwhelming victory in 2015. The failure of Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals in the recent election to win a majority for the second consecutive time was clear indication of that.

Like many observers, Stewart Prest, a lecturer in political science at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, said no political party emerged from the vote with much to brag about.

“There wasn’t really a winner,” he said. “There was just a whole bunch of losers.”

While Mr. Trudeau increased the Liberal Party’s position by a handful of seats, he remains well short of a majority within Parliament, which largely resembles the one that was dissolved in August. Nevertheless, several analysts say that Mr. Trudeau is in a significantly stronger position than before despite his election disappointment.

For one thing, he is unlikely to face another vote anytime soon, experts say.

Canada’s campaign finance laws make it almost impossible for parties to raise large sums of money quickly, so most political parties are in no financial position to go back to voters in the near future — a move few of them would welcome, in any case. That’s particularly true for the left-of-center New Democratic Party, which, as in the last Parliament, will most likely be Mr. Trudeau’s key ally in voting.

“None of them want another election,” said Brooke Jeffrey, a professor of political science at Concordia University in Montreal who has been an adviser to other Liberal leaders. That puts the opposition in a weak position when it comes to making demands in exchange for their support, Ms. Jeffrey noted.

“Trudeau has clear sailing for at least two years and he might even get four,” she said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau indicated that he will use that position of strength as Canada gradually leaves the pandemic behind to advance issues that have been central to his political agenda, starting with economic recovery and also including climate change, mental health and government-funded child care.

While Indigenous issues have historically have not been a major political force, they rose to the top of the national consciousness in the spring after the discovery of the remains of students buried on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. That was followed by several other similar discoveries, reviving a painful and traumatic history for Indigenous communities.

Before the election, Mr. Trudeau declared a national holiday, making Sept. 30 the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

But he undermined the gesture by spending the day traveling across the country with his family for a postelection beach vacation. Compounding the snub, his office did not respond to two requests from the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation, home to the Kamloops school site, to attend ceremonies there.

Last week, Mr. Trudeau traveled to the First Nation to apologize at a gathering where he was repeatedly, if respectfully, criticized for the timing of his vacation.

It was the third time Mr. Trudeau’s vacation plans had turned into a political headache, reinforcing the view of him among some Canadians as an out-of-touch member of the elite.

On Tuesday, the prime minister also used the cabinet announcement to try to hit reset on some government institutions that have been plagued by scandal, among them the military. Its leadership up to the most senior rank has been subject to multiple sexual abuse and misconduct allegations and investigations in recent months. “They simply still don’t get it,” a clearly frustrated Mr. Trudeau said earlier this month.

Mr. Trudeau replaced his defense minister, Harjit Sajjan, a former lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian Army who fought in Afghanistan, with Anita Anand, a former law professor who was the cabinet minister responsible for Canada’s successful vaccine purchase program during the pandemic. The move helped preserve gender balance across the top posts, as the prime minister has committed to doing since 2015.

The prime minister also named new leaders to oversee his climate agenda.

Mr. Trudeau has been long seen as champion of climate reform, but significant greenhouse gas emission cuts he’s achieved in many parts of the economy have been largely offset by increased production in Alberta’s oil sands. In recent months, some environmentalists have questioned whether he has been doing enough to cut emissions.

On Tuesday, the prime minister named a relentless critic of the oil industry to be his new minister of environment and climate change, turning to Steven Guilbeault, a co-founder of Équiterre, a Quebec-based environment group, who previously worked on climate issues at Greenpeace Canada.

Mr. Guilbeault was once arrested after scaling an observation tower that looms over downtown Toronto to unfurl a banner condemning the climate records of the Canada and the United States. His appointment could signal that Mr. Trudeau plans to temper his support of Canada’s oil and gas industry.

After leading his party through two elections in which it has emerged with a minority government, Mr. Trudeau has faced growing questions about his political future. On Tuesday, asked if he would lead the Liberals into the next vote, Mr. Trudeau, who is given to long answers, was uncharacteristically concise.

“Yes,” he said.

The New York Times

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