MacDougall: These four ministers need to go — but Trudeau is too weak to fire them

Patty Hajdu, Harjit Sajjan, Bill Blair and Steven Guilbeault should all be warming the back benches of the House of Commons.

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What do federal ministers Patty Hajdu, Harjit Sajjan, Bill Blair and Steven Guilbeault have in common? All should be lingering on the back benches earning a grunt’s pay, not taking car and driver to the ministerial buffet.

Everywhere you look, ministerial incompetence abounds: Blair can’t keep the border shut to variants, or make quarantine operational; Guilbeault didn’t appear to know what was in his department’s dangerous internet censorship bill when he trying to defend it (the government has since retreated); Sajjan is lying about what the military ombudsman told him regarding former chief of defence staff Jonathan Vance; and, after 15 months of pandemic hell, Hajdu is showing no mastery of fire, only a propensity to get burned.

If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had any sense, he’d chop them all and bring in reinforcements before they further wound his government. Then again, if the ministers had any sense of accountability or responsibility, they’d have punched their own tickets by now.


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The trouble for members of Team Trudeau is threefold: they’re slow to sense danger and adjust course; their bench strength isn’t very good; and, as the Bill Morneau-WE Charity episode demonstrated, it’s hard to fire your minions for rolling in the same manner as you.

Hajdu is an example of the second problem. While everyone likes to hypothesize about how well former health minister Jane Philpott would have handled the pandemic, it was actually soon-to-be random-trivia-factoid Ginette Pettipas Taylor who preceded Hajdu, not Philpott. Nor did Pettipas Taylor cover herself in glory whilst she was at Health Canada, presiding over the silencing of Canada’s pandemic surveillance network (whoops) in the summer of 2019. So when Hajdu took over, it was a case of numpty replacing nullity, and certainly not competence replacing excellence.

It’s even worse for Guilbeault, who is a downgrade at Canadian Heritage from former Minister Pablo Rodriguez, who was brought in to steady the ship after the departure of  Mélanie Joly, whose performance at Heritage now looks like wizardry compared to that of the current occupant. Is it any wonder the Brothers Kielberger were able to lever millions out of the department?

In retrospect, however, it’s Sajjan’s appointment that is the worst of the bunch. It’s not only that Vance was Sajjan’s superior in Afghanistan, making the ministerial-CDS dynamic awkward to begin with. It’s that appointing a former military man to head a department that needs to be fired directly into the sun was never going to work. It doesn’t take Louise Arbour performing the role of Marie Deschamps to figure out that former military men don’t make the most effective inquisitors of their department, something Stephen Harper learned when he appointed Gordon O’Connor. You know what I’d pay to see? Someone like Jody Wilson-Raybould or Jane Philpott go into DND HQ with a mandate to destroy.


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Sajjan’s ridiculous contortions on Vance are partially excused by his role in the political chain of command; he is, after all, only following Trudeau’s orders. And if the boss doesn’t want to know, then it’s up to his soldiers to foot the bill, which, in this case, means looking like a rank idiot trying to pin your failures on a prime minister who hasn’t been around for six-odd years.

As others have pointed out, Sajjan and the PMO’s see-no-abuse, talk-no-abuse, hear-no-abuse routine on Vance was unspooling just as Trudeau was in the midst of his own sexual harassment allegation a few years back, and came just as the Liberal government was in need of Vance’s support in shoving Vice-Admiral Mark Norman out the door over his role in the — gasp — successful procurement of a naval supply vessel. Chucking Vance out at the time the ombudsman flagged up his concerns would have been principled, but politically inconvenient.

The trouble for Trudeau is the current situation can hardly be described as convenient. And while Erin O’Toole might not get his called-for resignation of Katie Telford, the prime minister’s chief of staff, he will get another week of roasting headlines. With an election potentially in the offing, Trudeau should be removing problems, not adding to them.

Andrew MacDougall is a London-based communications consultant and ex-director of communications to former prime minister Stephen Harper.


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