Today Jack Layton announced the composition of the shadow cabinet that will take on the Conservatives when Parliament resumes on June 2. For those who don’t obsessively follow politics, a shadow cabinet is the group of MPs who will serve as critics to the government’s ministers. A critic is tasked with holding their government counterpart to account, and is the main voice of opposition on issues relating to the ministry for which they are responsible.
For the first time in their history the NDP are the Official Opposition, and the government in waiting for the next four years. As such, a strong front bench that will be able to stand up to the Conservative agenda is critical.
Looking down the list I am impressed by the calibre of the NDP MPs, but also by the artful juggling act undertaken by Layton to produce a well-balanced shadow cabinet where no one looks out of place.
In particular, the representation of women and Quebec is great to see.
The NDP shadow cabinet is 40% female, which reflects the record percentage of female candidates the party fielded in the last election. The NDP ran strong female candidates, and is now putting them in positions of power.
This compares to a Conservative cabinet which boasts only eight female ministers (22%) and is once again overrun with old white men.
The NDP was able to draw on the strength of returning heavyweights like Libby Davies (Health) Olivia Chow (Transport) Megan Leslie (Environment) and Peggy Nash, who returns to Parliament after losing her seat in 2008 to take on the all important Finance critic position. Other returnees include Linda Duncan (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development), Irene Mathyssen (Minister of State for Seniors) and Jean Crowder.
While the NDP will rely on the experience and skill of these veterans, there’s a lot to get excited about when it comes to the rookies.
Nycole Turmel, the former national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, becomes Caucus Chair and critic for Public Works. Although she had left by the time I started working for PSAC, my colleagues are universally enamoured with her drive, determination and principles, and I’m thrilled to see her in such an important position.
HélÃ¨ne LaverdiÃ¨re, a former Canadian diplomat who resigned her position over philosophical differences with the Harper government, will be the critic for International Cooperation. Her energy and intelligence (she holds a PhD and used to teach university) will be needed as she tries to explain the meaning of the word “cooperation” to the Conservatives.
Francoise Boivin, a lawyer and former Liberal MP, will go head to head with Rona Ambrose in the Status of Women portfolio. She is an extremely intelligent and articulate advocate and I’m looking forward to seeing her contrast herself with the less than impressive Ms. Ambrose.
Meanwhile Marie-Claude Morin (Housing), Rathika Sitsabaiesan (Post-Secondary Education), Manon Perreault (Disabilities) and Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet (Skills) will each take on different parts of the Human Resources and Skills Development portfolio, with returning MP Jean Crowder as the principal critic. Claude Patry (Employment Insurance) will round out the field. I love that it’s been broken up, as each of these sub domains are near and dear to the NDP’s heart. With a dedicated critic for each, these issues will get their due.
The other rookies are Christine Moore, who will go head to head with everyone’s favourite Con, Julian Fantino, as critic for Military Procurement. Look to see this up and comer from Northern Quebec hold Fantino’s feet to the fire on jets without engines and other boondoggles.
HélÃ¨ne Leblanc will be up against Gary Goodyear, the Minister of State for Science and Technology. Given that he believes the earth is six thousand years old, and she is an educator and agronomist with degrees in education and agriculture and the environment, I like her odds.
Finally Paulina Ayala will be the critic for the Minister of State for the Americas and Consular Affairs, Diane Ablonczy. She was born in Chile and was a leader in the student movement and in citizens rights organizations fighting the Pinochet dictatorship.
40% of the shadow cabinet is from Quebec, which is not surprising given that the 59 seats the NDP won here are more than they have in the rest of the country combined. All of the rookie women I mentioned above, with the exception of Rathika Sitsabaiesan, are from Quebec. They will be joined by a number of talented men from here.
Tom Mulcair is rewarded for his role in delivering Quebec to the NDP with the role of House Leader, aka second in command. His tenacious determination and incorrigible optimism got the NDP this far in Quebec, and much will be expected of him as the elder statesman in a provincial caucus otherwise consisting of rookies.
Alexandre Boulerice is a union man (as are many of the new NDP members) who was most recently with CUPE. He has run and lost several times before breaking through, and although he’s a rookie MP he will bring a lot to the table in terms of experience with the party. He’ll have the weighty assignment of Treasury Board, where his intelligence and rock solid progressive principles will be called upon to go toe to toe with Tony Clement.
Tyrone Benskin is the former National VP of ACTRA (the union for actors) and Artistic Director of Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop. His wealth of knowledge and practical experience at ACTRA make him a natural fit for the Heritage portfolio. This is
an area where the NDP matches up particularly favourably with the Cons, who haven’t recovered from blasting artists for being lazy bums who spend all their time at lavish taxpayer funded galas, and Benskin will be counted upon to be a strong defender of everything from the CBC to freedom of expression for musicians as the Cons go on the offensive against Canadian culture.
Pierre Nantel, formerly the artistic director at the Cirque du Soleil will take on Sport, while his South Shore colleague Hoang Mai (another veteran of multiple campaigns) will be responsible for the important National Revenue post. Both are dynamic, well qualified MPs and I’m thrilled to see them in the shadow cabinet.
Romeo Saganash is a hugely respected Cree leader and a star candidate who had a good chance of winning in northern Quebec even before the surge. A former representative to the U.N., Saganash is no stranger to politics and he will take on Natural Resources, where his talents will stand him in good stead.
Raymond CÃ´té rounds out the Quebec contingent, and he will take on Small Business and Tourism. His counterpart on the government benches will be the disgraced but inexplicably back in cabinet Maxime Bernier.
The NDP shadow cabinet is good. Scary good. These people’s intelligence, talent and dedication are going to impress the hell out of Canadians over the next four years, especially in comparison to the Cons front bench.
Today Jack Layton took the first step along the long and winding road to replacing the Conservatives in four years. For my money, it was a damn good first step.
I skipped some big ones, like Joe Comartin in Justice, because they weren’t women or from Quebec. Here’s the full list: NDP Shadow Cabinet