By Philip Cross, August 4, 2023
Justin Trudeau’s shuffle of his Cabinet last week — which was more a game of “52 pickup” than a shuffle — seemed based on the assumption the government’s problem is an inability to communicate its accomplishments. The only place in Canada where people believe that is the Prime Minister’s Office. Everywhere else there is a consensus that this government’s real problem is that it is quick to adopt policies but loses interest in following up to make sure they are implemented properly. This flaw reflects a fundamental problem in how Trudeau organized the Prime Minister’s Office from the outset.
The problem had its origins in the 2015 federal election campaign. Katie Telford was put in charge of the campaign, which was an undeniable success, while the key advisor on strategy was long-time Trudeau friend Gerald Butts. After the election, Trudeau made Telford his chief of staff, which she still is today, while Butts became his principal secretary, which he was until 2019, when he took the fall for the SNC-Lavalin controversy.
One result of making a campaign head chief of staff is that the Prime Minister’s Office is in constant electioneering mode at the expense of governing effectively. In his 2017 book The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, Chris Whipple argues that the key to a successful administration involves rigorously separating the people who run election campaigns from those tasked with implementing policies. This can be difficult for successful candidates, who naturally want to be loyal to the people who have devoted years of their lives to getting them elected and whom they know and trust. Jimmy Carter, for instance, made his campaign manager and long-time friend Hamilton Jordan chief of staff and the results were disastrous.