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Trudeau unveils cabinet that 'looks like Canada'

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to implement a wide-ranging and ambitious agenda and is counting on a diverse group of cabinet ministers to help him achieve it. Philip Fine reports from Montreal.

Justin Trudeau was sworn in as Canadian Prime Minister on Wednesday and unveiled a cabinet tasked with implementing an ambitious agenda that offers a new path for Canada after the near decade of Conservative rule.

"Government by cabinet is back," said Trudeau, alluding to defeated Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose top-down style had been criticized for handicapping his cabinet ministers. Trudeau defeated Harper's Conservatives with an overwhelming majority on October 19.

Trudeau's cabinet made history with its equal numbers of men and women. It also gives key seats to several neophytes alongside veteran politicians, counts several under-40 members and is ethnically diverse. Among the foreign-born ministers are Maryam Monsef, 30, who came to Canada from Afghanistan at the age of 11 with her mother and two sisters after her father had been killed by the Taliban, and Punjabi activist Amarjeet Sohi, who has been outspoken against extremism in the Canadian Sikh community and spent 21 months in an Indian jail on false terrorism charges.

Speaking to the public and the press outside Rideau Hall, following the swearing-in ceremony, Trudeau said: "It's an incredible pleasure for me to be before you today to present a cabinet that looks like Canada."

The diverse back stories of the 30-member group also include Health Minister Jane Philpott, who worked as a doctor in Niger for a decade, Veterans' Affairs Minister Kent Hehr, a paraplegic, who worked as a litigator and then a provincial politician, and Transportation Minister Marc Garneau, a former astronaut.

In 1968, the prime minister's late father Pierre Trudeau attained star power in a time referred to as Trudeaumania. He was prime minister from 1968-1979 and 1980-1984, making Justin the only child of a Canadian prime minister to ever go on to serve as in the same position. More affable than his father, Trudeau stepped into the excited crowd under clear Ottawa skies with his wife Sophie Gregoire, taking selfies and hugging well-wishers. He left the crowd to host a Google Hangout with school children and then met with his newly minted ministers for their first cabinet meeting.

Trudeau's "sunny ways," an expression from a former prime minister that he referenced at his acceptance speech, is apt for this prime minister, who has given many Canadians a renewed optimism. Over the next couple of months, the cabinet will be tested to see if they can keep those sunny ways, while handling several pressing issues and events.

Catching up on the environment

Trudeau and his Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna, accompanied by a majority of the provincial premiers, will attend the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris at the end of this month. The prime minister has promised to consult the premiers before setting firm emission targets. The group will be poised to shed the environmental laggard persona that Canada attained under the former government.

Trudeau will have an opportunity to speak to world leaders at three major upcoming conferences, namely the G-20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Manila and the Commonwealth heads-of-government meeting in Malta. During a morning-after congratulatory call from US President Barack Obama, Trudeau told the president that Canada plans to honour its campaign pledge to withdraw from the U.S.-led campaign of air strikes against the so-called Islamic State.

Wide agenda

Another pressing matter is a campaign promise to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of year, a move that many see as logistically unrealistic. There is also a Supreme Court ruling on doctor-assisted death that calls on the government to enact a framework by February for those experiencing "enduring suffering." The Liberals are expected to ask for an extension, since the committee responsible for consulting Canadians on the issue was forced to adjourn during the 78-day campaign period.

Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould, an aboriginal leader and former lawyer, will be handling several files, including the promise to hold an inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women. She will also oversee another high-profile Liberal promise: the legalization of marijuana.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale will be entrusted to amend Bill C-51, an anti-terror legislation that gives Canada's spy agency increased powers. Criticized for supporting the Conservatives on the bill, the Liberals promised to enact amendments that would increase oversight. Another bill, C-24, which revokes the citizenship of convicted terrorists, is expected to be repealed.

Infrastructure targets

Finance Minister Bill Morneau, a political rookie but a successful HR executive and a consultant to the Ontario government on pension reform, will be overseeing one of the boldest campaign promises, which calls for three years of $10-billion deficits in order to invest in infrastructure projects.

Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland, a former journalist and author of Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, has been an important architect for the Liberals' economic platform. Among her files will be the possible signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country trade deal that is currently awaiting ratification.

Among other promises are $150 million (US113 million, 104 million euros) of funding cuts to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to be reversed, electoral reform to replace the first-past-the-post system, the reinstatement of the long-form census and a new pharmacare program.

Trudeau told reporters that his first order of business will be to introduce a tax cut for middle-income Canadians and raise taxes for the top 1% of income earners.

Parliament is expected to convene for a short session on December 3.

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