‘You need to have government by Cabinet. You had government by PMO’
BY RATTAN MALL
FORMER federal minister Herb Dhaliwal, who served in Jean Chretien’s Cabinet from 1997-2003, told The VOICE this week that among the steps that Justin Trudeau needs to take to get out of the political mess he’s in is to bring some new people into the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
He told me: “He had a lot of inexperienced young people who were probably very smart but didn’t have the wisdom and the experience and I think he’s got to make changes. He’s already made some changes – he’s actually made my former chief of staff George Young to liaison with the Caucus and I think it’s a sort of the first step to better manage his Caucus.”
Dhaliwal added: “I think they have learned that managing caucus is very important in politics and I think that’s one thing they didn’t really understand. So now they’ve made some changes.”
He said Trudeau has to decentralize power in the PMO because a few people started centralizing power in that office. “One of the things they can do is – as has traditionally been – have a regional minister. They never had a regional minister. So, of course, that gave more power to the people in the Prime Minister’s Office. They need to appoint a regional minister for each part of the country.”
Dhaliwal said: “The other thing I think is that he has to reach to the whole Liberal Party – Liberals from the past, Liberals from the present, Liberals of the future. And I think that’s one thing he’s not done well. He needs to do that because it’s important.”
He pointed out: “Remember they were all talking about Trudeau and the Team? They have to start talking about the Liberal Party. It’s a great political institution and they had forgotten the history of this party. So they need to now re-establish the strength of the larger Liberal Party – people from the past, people from the present and people who are going to come in the future. So that’s important.”
DHALIWAL bluntly noted: “They also have to get back to governing by Cabinet. The PMO people were trying to tell ministers what to do. I never had that problem when I was minister. And you need to have government by Cabinet. You had government by PMO and they need to change that.”
He added: “The other thing is that they used to have the Prime Minister’s Office attend the Liberal Caucus meeting. We never had that. There was a reason for that. Because Prime Minister Chretien wanted everybody to be open, upfront, to speak up and not to be afraid just because there were people from the Prime Minister’s Office. We never had people from the Prime Minister’s Office in the Liberal Caucus meeting – we never had that!”
Dhaliwal said: “So you have to manage Caucus better. It’s like having a board of 170 directors. You have to listen to them. You have to hear them out. You have to give them access to you. … It’s very important to manage them and I think they didn’t realize how important it was. Now they are learning how important it is to manage Caucus.
“The other thing in politics is you have to walk the talk. You can’t talk; you have to walk the talk. We talk about transparency. Let’s be transparent and tell it like it is. So they’ve mishandled this because they weren’t transparent, open from the beginning; they kept changing the story.”
As reported in The VOICE, Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former justice minister, tweeted on February 12 that she had resigned from Cabinet. The MP for Vancouver-Granville, who was Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence, tweeted a link to her resignation letter.
She was under tremendous pressure to give her version regarding a Globe and Mail report that she had been pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office to help Quebec-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution.
On March 4, Jane Philpott, President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government, resigned from the Trudeau cabinet, stating that she had “been considering the events that have shaken the federal government in recent weeks,” referring to the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
Philpott tweeted: “It grieves me to resign from a portfolio where I was at work to deliver an important mandate. I must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities, constitutional obligations. There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.”
DHALIWAL told me that he thinks that if Trudeau makes the changes he is suggesting, “he may be able to survive; otherwise, we’re looking at a minority government and maybe even a change.”
Dhaliwal stressed: “He has to re-establish his leadership and start governing by Cabinet, managing the Caucus better. I mean it’s unheard of that a minister resigns and they don’t even know. That’s a real lack of not understanding your Cabinet colleagues.”
He said: “They were totally surprised by [Philpott’s resignation] and you would think that if she was [resigning], the Prime Minister should have talked to her personally right away and brought her into his office and said ‘well, we need you. You can’t resign … Government needs you.’ … They should have started building a better relationship. I mean that’s part of the people around the Prime Minister – they shouldn’t get to the point where ministers are resigning and they don’t even know [what] they are upset about with the Prime Minister and the government.”
Dhaliwal then pointed to his own example when he was serving in Chretien’s Cabinet.
He related: “I wasn’t going to run the third time in politics. I had mentioned to one of my staff that I wasn’t going to run. You know the Prime Minister knew about it very quickly – within a few days he called me [and said] ‘I want to see you at 24 Sussex [the residence of the Prime Minister].’ When I was there, he said ‘look, I understand you are not interested in running next time.’ I said ‘yeah, I wanna get back to my business.’ He said ‘no, you have to run. I need you. It’s very important for you to run because if you don’t run, I could lose other seats and we need you to form government and you have to run.’ So I said ‘okay. There are a couple of conditions. One is after two years if I want to leave, you will allow me to leave politics.’ He said ‘fine.’ And I said ‘I’d like to have an economic portfolio.’ He said ‘fine, Done!’ And once he shook hands, that was it.”
Dhaliwal said the PMO people should have known that Philpott was so upset that she was going to resign and they should have been trying to resolve the issue.
He added: “So I think if he makes some of those changes he could recover from this. He has to start taking advice from experienced people who’ve been there, done that. And in the past, unfortunately, he hasn’t.”