05 Nov 2015

    A Cabinet That 'Looks Like Canada'? Not So Fast Trudeau!

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper's reign ended Wednesday when PM Justin Trudeau took his oath.

    As Trudeau 2.0 unveiled the group that will join him at the head table of political power, the media fell head over heels trumpeting Trudeau as leading the "most diverse cabinet ever".

    The previous Harper cabinet included women, Aboriginals, South Asians, Asians, Quebeckers, members of the LGBT community and a disabled person. However, no Afro-Canadians were ever part of PM Harper's caucus clan, and Trudeau didn't change that. I guess some demographics don't get a seat at the decisional table. 

    Different goals, different measuring sticks
    There's some whitesplaining confusion as to what diversity is, and what the measuring sticks look like. To be clear, diversity is about encompassing a maximum array of minorities, not overrepresenting one particular group to the exclusion of others. If Trudeau wanted to improve diversity in his inaugural cabinet, it's a stretch to roll out the "mission accomplished" banner, when his cabinet doesn't include a single Asian or Black person.

    PM Trudeau set the tone when he declared his cabinet was "a cabinet that looks like Canada."

    Um. Whatchu talkin' bout Justin?

    Have we reached Martin Luther King's mountain top? Why didn't anyone tell me?

    Since Trudeau talked about appearances, gender and race are evident characteristics to consider. In fact, they are the characteristics mandated by the government of Canada's Employment Equity Act which identifies and defines the designated groups as:
    • women;
    • Aboriginal peoples - people who are Indian, Inuit or Métis;
    • persons with disabilities; and
    • members of visible minorities - people, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.


    Women were once barred from public office. How far they have come! White women have been in Parliament since 1921 and in cabinet since 1958 . They have had a seat at the table ever since, and even (briefly) in the Prime Minister's Office. The Trudeau cabinet's gender parity is a high water mark for women, but it does not advance diversity.


    Aboriginals were the last demographic to get voting rights in Canada. They are breaking records each successive election, going from  5 to 7 MPs in 2011. The tally now stands at 10. In spite of what you might think of the Harper government, he actually set the bar for Aboriginal cabinet participation

    Not only have Aboriginals remained in cabinet, but Trudeau made Jody Wilson-Raybould Canada's first Aboriginal Federal Justice Minister.  Aboriginals account for approximately 4% of the Canadian population, and 6% of cabinet.  The gains are self evident.

    Persons with disabilities

    Steven Fletcher, a quadriplegic, was appointed to PM Harper's cabinet in 2008. Minister Fletcher was the first person in history with a permanent disability to be named to the Canadian cabinet. Trudeau increased the number to two: he named wheelchair-bound MP Kent Hehr and visually-impaired Carla Qualtrough to his inaugural cabinet. This did not make a big splash in the news. Minister Hehr, like Fletcher, is from the dominant race and gender. Ms. Qualtrough is feted under the female gender role. Yet, for the millions of Canadians living with a disability, it feels like they have a seat at the most influential table in the nation.

    Visible minorities

    According to Statistics Canada, one out of every 5 Canadians was a visible minority in 2011. This demographic, which includes Canadians of Asian, South Asian, Afro-Caribbean descent, is heading up - way up --- to 30% by 2031.

    But for some visible minority groups, PM Trudeau's inaugural cabinet is actually not diverse at all.  The absence of the biggest racial group in Canada - Asians (Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean etc) is jarring. And despite a record four Afro-Canadian MPs elected, Trudeau shut them out of cabinet.

    Asians and Blacks got the shaft, and the numbers speak for themselves: Blacks make up 15% of visible minorities in Canada, but 0 % of the cabinet. Asians make up 40% of visible minorities in Canada but also 0 % of the cabinet. Yet South Asians, who only make up 25% of visible minorities in Canada are now making up 80% of the visible minorities in cabinet! So please tell me just how this cabinet is one that "looks like Canada?" 

    If mainstream media can stop all its Trudeau fawning for a half second, I'd like them to remember that diversity isn't about including one race, it's about the breadth of races included. 

    Read 11687 times Last modified on Thursday, 10 September 2020 13:16
    (7 votes)
    Rachel Décoste

    Rachel Décoste is an immigration, diversity and anti-racism expert from Ottawa.  Ms. Décoste is an alumni of Obama’s presidential campaigns; she was named to the Top 100 Accomplished Black Canadian women in 2018. Ms. Décoste facilitates anti-Black racism workshops for corporations. Ms. Décoste’s audiobook about her symbolic journey to West Africa is set for release in February 2021.

    Twitter: @RachelDecoste


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