Prime Minister Trudeau faced anger from parts of Western Canada as he began his second term in office with a low-key ceremony.
Because it’s 2019, the swearing in of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet this week was a dramatically different affair than his first such ceremony four years ago.
His speech in front of Rideau Hall, where Governor-General Julie Payette presided over the actual ceremony on Wednesday, was brief. There were no rhetorical flights like his earlier declaration of “sunny ways” that would likely become catchphrases.
In 2015, two giant television screens on the grounds of the governor general’s mansion revealed the new ministers as they were sworn in to a large and enthusiastic crowd. Back then particularly loud cheers rose from Indigenous people among them when Jody Wilson-Raybould was called up to to become justice minister. Her name, of course, was not uttered by anyone this time around.
This week, those screens were absent, which was just as well. By my count, the crowd, excluding journalists and officials, never exceeded a dozen people.
Until a member of Mr. Trudeau’s staff intervened, the handful of spectators were kept at a distance by security guards from which they had little hope of hearing the prime minister’s remarks, let alone aspiring to posing for a selfie with him.
Mansoora Tahir told me she was in the crowd for the much bigger show in 2015 and thought it was important to turn up again, adding that she was “destined for a Trudeau selfie.” She was accompanied by her daughter, Nimra Ahmed, who works as a mechanical engineer at the oil sands north of Fort McMurray, Alberta.
“Last time it was a big shift after the Conservatives being in power for years,” Ms. Ahmed said. “This time they didn’t win a majority so it’s more toned down.”
In the end, Ms. Tahir was not blessed by fate. Very much unlike in 2015, Mr. Trudeau didn’t pose for a single selfie.
Ms. Ahmed said that she cast her vote for the Liberals, putting her in Alberta’s political minority. Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal party was shut out there and also in neighboring Saskatchewan.
A week earlier I’d been in Alberta to write an article about the province’s feverish political temperature.
[Read: Trudeau Won the Election, but Hasn’t Won Over Western Canada]
At times, it was almost impossible to escape political talk. One night I had dinner at the Longview Steakhouse just north of the Alberta town of the same name. As the locals promised, the meal matched the extraordinary mountain view.
As I was about to leave, two couples sat down at an adjacent table. Their dinner conversation immediately turned to an arcane discussion of how the federal government redistributes revenue between the provinces and whether Alberta should pull out of the Canada Pension Plan — both ideas raised by Premier Jason Kenney as a way to pull back from the rest of the country.
While talk of Western separation, or Wexit, came up several times during my trip, it doesn’t appear to be a serious threat at this point, even if few people are going as far as Naheed Nenshi, Calgary’s mayor, who called it “idiotic” this week.
The West’s anger and alienation came up a few times during Mr. Trudeau’s news conference this week.
His new cabinet saw Chrystia Freeland, who was born and raised in Alberta but who now lives in Toronto, elevated to the honorary position of deputy prime minister. She was also moved from foreign affairs to being the federal government’s point person on relations with the provinces. Her new job may make dealing with President Trump seem easy by comparison. Jim Carr, a Liberal member of Parliament from Manitoba who is currently being treated for a form of blood cancer, will act as the prime minister’s special adviser on issues affecting the prairies.
And, as he did on election night, Mr. Trudeau tried to assure Alberta and Saskatchewan that even if they don’t have someone in the cabinet, they won’t be ignored.
“We are responding to the caucus we were given, we very much would have liked to have had ministers from the west elected,” Mr. Trudeau said in the chilly, if light breeze. “We’re going to work very hard for every region of the country.”
Based on my experience, Albertans will certainly be watching.
A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.
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