Name ten federal cabinet ministers. Just ten.
It’s not a lot. Ten represents just a quarter of Justin Trudeau’s cabinets in recent years.
So, name ten. But you can’t, can you?
You’re not alone. Few can. With the exception of weirdos like media political columnists and Ottawa-based bureaucrats, Joe and Jane Frontporch generally don’t know who is in cabinet, and they mostly don’t care, either.
Apart from Chrystia Freeland and Dominic LeBlanc – perhaps – most voters couldn’t pick a Trudeau government minister out of a police lineup (where not a few voters think they belong, but that’s a column for another day). The majority of Trudeau’s ministers are distinguished by being indistinguishable. They are remarkably unremarkable.
In the annals of Canadian politics, successful Prime Ministers have tended to surround themselves with notables. Jean Chretien had Paul Martin, John Manley, Brian Tobin and more. Brian Mulroney had Joe Clark, Don Mazankowski and Jean Charest. Stephen Harper had Rona Ambrose, Peter MacKay and Lisa Raitt.
Even Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre, always cultivated talent around the cabinet table – Marc Lalonde, Allan MacEachen, John Turner, the aforementioned Chretien.
But Justin Trudeau? As mentioned, it’s all about him, generally. L’etat, c’est lui – the State is Him. You don’t really hear about anyone else unless they get in trouble – and Trudeau Junior’s ministers get in trouble quite often (Marco Mendicino, Bill Morneau, Bill Blair, et al.).
So why don’t we know more about the people who make up Canada’s federal government? Because Justin Trudeau’s government isn’t really a government. It’s a cult of personality.
It begins and (one hopes) ends with Justin. It is entirely, indisputably, All About Him.
A cult of personality, the dictionary folks tell us, is “a cult promoting adulation of a living national leader or public figure.” Which, in Trudeau’s case, sounds about right.
None of his ministers ever spoke out about, say, the fact that Justin Trudeau is the first Prime Minister to have been found to have violated multiple federal statutes. None of the people within his Liberal Party bothered to check, back in 2008, whether the aspiring politician had groped a woman without consent (he had) or worn racist black face (he had, more than once).
But none of his partisans – christened “TruAnon,” memorably, by CNN’s Jake Tapper – care about any of that stuff. You can see the TruAnon types in the comments below this column, like a swarm of oily earwigs, objecting to anything and anyone who is outside the cult.
So, it’s a cult of personality. Generally speaking, if a cult leader is effective at suppressing dissent and bad PR – like Scientology or the Moonies – then the cult leadership survives.
But that’s the imperfection at the center of Justin Trudeau’s cult of personality: the leader is imperfect. Aga Khan, SNC-Lavalin, WE “charity,” now Chinese interference in our democracy: in every single case, the biggest Trudeau-era scandals have implicated Trudeau personally. Him.
So, in a cult of personality, when the leader stumbles, it jeopardizes the entire organization. It places the whole shebang at risk. And that is particularly the case when there isn’t someone standing in the wings, ready to take over.
And there just isn’t. With the exception of Intergovernmental Affairs’ LeBlanc or Industry’s Francois-Phillippe Champagne, it is very, very hard to picture anyone else taking over and surviving a Tory landslide.
Because they’re all mostly invisible.
Because there was a big-deal cabinet shuffle, this week, and the chances are excellent you (a) didn’t know or (b) don’t care.
Welcome to the club.