They test my resolve immediately. So be it.
The recent Cabinet shuffle saw Jody Wilson-Raybould moved from Justice to Veterans Affairs with the usual blather from those involved, summed up thusly.
What, don’t you think veterans matter?
Thanks for asking. I do think veterans matter, and that their fair treatment by the Government of Canada — even, perhaps, the generous treatment of veterans wounded in body or in spirit — ought to be a priority. But let’s look at it in political and power terms.
In our federal government there are, I believe, four portfolios generally acknowledged as senior: Finance, National Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Justice.
Departments in the second tier include Health, Public Services and Procurement, Transport (maybe) and, these days, International Trade, and Environment and Climate Change.
Examples in the tier(s) below that include Agriculture and Agri-Food, Natural Resources, Canadian Heritage, Democratic Institutions, Status of Women, and, yes, Veterans Affairs.
We could debate the exact rankings, but the rankings exist: not everyone at the table is equal. Indeed, when Jody Wilson-Raybould was appointed as Minister of Justice and Attorney General, much was made of this being the most-senior appointment ever held by an Indigenous person in Canada. Of it being an appointment that signalled a historic change in the relationship between the Government of Canada and Indigenous people. No one suggested that Hunter Tootoo’s concurrent appointment — as Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and Canadian Coast Guard — compared in prestige or carried the same import.
Yet, somehow, when Wilson-Raybould is moved to Veterans Affairs, both the Prime Minister and the Minister herself try to sell the narrative that the move is not a demotion.
I understand that answering yammering questions from the press would be difficult. I think that human resources decisions — of which this is one — and the basis for them ought to be private, even in public life. But I also think that there’s no point in denying the nose on your face. It’s a move to a lesser portfolio.
They owed us a response that did not strain credulity by denying that bare fact. They owed her an approach that did not strain their working relationship. If they had wanted to put the best face on it, nose and all, they might have done something like this . . .
After completing her mandate early
in the demanding and prestigious portfolio
of Justice and Attorney General,
Jody Wilson-Raybould has agreed to take on
an equally demanding but less prestigious portfolio
that has been neglected by other governments for far too long.
This shows our commitment to Canadian veterans,
including Indigenous veterans, who bear additional burdens.
That they didn’t do so — that they responded so clumsily — suggests that they think they can get away with telling us anything. And that they didn’t care enough to spare the Minister any humiliation.
I have to remind myself, occasionally, that a Cabinet is not a piece of furniture. It is wholly fictional abstraction that, nevertheless, is very real and has a life of its own, distinct from the welfare of any of its members. And we have to view events that happen to, and within, the Cabinet in that light. It is the functioning of the whole body that matters, not the welfare of any single organ of that body.
I think I have more to say on this subject, but I’m not sure what it is yet!
Jim – Oh, yes, I agree that the Cabinet is an organization and has its own needs. And I see wildly varying opinions on Wilson-Raybould’s performance. But setting that aside, I still think they can do a better job of communicating. When I get to the point that I don’t expect their statements to be credible (forget about true), then I’m not happy.
Beautifully expressed, Isabel. Thank you.
Ian – Thank *you.* It’s discouraging how often I hear statements that just seem obviously false. On a related issue (the resignation that reportedly prompted all these moves), when was the last time any ambitious person actually left politics to spend more time with their family?
Nice work; they should have you, Isabel, writing out the PR pieces for these cabinet shuffles. It would be a little more accurate and as you say, less humiliating to the ministers.
Marianne – Thanks! Although some might consider what I generate as blather, too. 🙂 Twenty years in marketing resets your blather line, I fear, and not for the more stringent!