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‘The focus stays on Trudeau’: Four things we learned from the massive cabinet shuffle

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled a massive cabinet shuffle on Wednesday, dropping some high-profile ministers, promoting some new faces, and rearranging some key portfolios.

The biggest name to leave cabinet entirely was former justice minister David Lametti, who was joined by former treasury board president Mona Fortier and Marco Mendicino, who faced several controversies as public safety minister.

Dominic LeBlanc will take over from Mendicino at public safety and former defence minister Anita Anand was named president of the Treasury Board. Anand will be replaced at defence by Bill Blair.

High-profile ministers who kept their existing jobs were Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne.

Here are four things we learned from the changes Trudeau made to his front bench.

Looking for a reset

Massive cabinet shuffles like this one don’t tend to happen when everything is ticking along smoothly.

Today’s cabinet shuffle coincided with a poll from Abacus Data showing the Conservative Party ten points ahead of the Liberal Party nationally, with the Conservative gaining four percentage points in the last month.

The poll shows that 32 percent of Canadians approve of the government compared to 51 percent who disapprove of it, the worst score since July 2021.

At a press conference after the swearing-in ceremony, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau disputed the notion that his government is in a slump and argued that he was looking for “fresh energy” to help the government connect with Canadians.

“This is a moment where putting forward the strongest possible team with fresh energy and a range of skills that are going to be able to continue the really important of work of showing Canadians the positive and ambitious vision for the future that we’re so committed to,” said Trudeau.

Reinforcements in the battleground ridings

A couple of cabinet appointments could be a clue to where the Liberals are expecting tough fights in the next election.

Jenna Sudds, the Liberal MP for Kanata—Carleton, was named the minister of families, children, and social development on Wednesday. Sudds squeaked out a victory in her riding by three percentage points in 2021, with the Conservative candidate gaining ground compared to the previous election in 2019. The provincial riding in that area has been held by the Progressive Conservative Party since it came into existence.

The Liberals may also be looking to shore up seats that face competition from NDP challengers.

Toronto MP Arif Virani, who represents Parkdale—High Park, faced a fierce challenge from the NDP in the 2021 election, also winning his seat by just three percentage points. Virani will be the new minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, a boost in profile that may help him in the next election.

It’s just one of the ways a government can bolster the chances of incumbents facing close races.

Wave of retirements

Some high-profile ministers announced their retirement this week in advance of the cabinet shuffle, suggesting that the Liberals are looking to settle on a team that will lead them into the next election.

Stepping down, with the intention to quit politics entirely, were former transport minister Omar Alghabra, former fisheries and oceans minister Joyce Murray, former public services and procurement minister Helen Jaczek, and former mental health and addictions minister Carolyn Bennett.

It was reminiscent of the final years of the Harper government when some top ministers, including foreign minister John Baird, announced that they would not be running in the 2015 election. In hindsight, it was a sign that some of the top political minds saw trouble on the horizon in an election campaign that would sweep the Liberals into power.

The focus stays on Trudeau

Although the Liberals are hoping that a new team around the prime minister will help carry the government’s message to Canadians, the focus will likely continue to be on Trudeau.

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre argued that the wave of cabinet demotions wasn’t good enough and that Trudeau “should have fired himself.”

“The minister that really needs to be shuffled out is Justin Trudeau. His record is one of failure, and he is shuffling nearly his entire cabinet in a desperate attempt to distract from all that he has broken,” said Poilievre, in a statement released to reporters after the cabinet shuffle.

Wednesday’s Abacus Date poll likely provides a clue that the Conservatives will keep their focus on Trudeau, rather than the team around him.

The prime minister’s net approval rating sits at -22, with 29 percent of Canadians rating their impression of him as positive versus 51 percent with a negative impression. Poilievre’s net approval rating is at -6, with 31 percent positive and 37 percent negative.

Religious Canadians are less anxious about having children and they’re having more of them, study finds

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Religious women in Canada are having more children than non-religious women and report less anxiety about childbearing and parenthood, according to a new study by the faith-based think tank Cardus.

In particular, non-religious women have serious concerns about the financial impact of having children and are far more skeptical that their partner will help with childcare than religious women the study finds.

“Even when religious and non-religious women have identical financial circumstances, they report dramatically different degrees of financial worries, suggesting that religious women possess additional non-financial resources, such as community support or psychological strategies, for managing their situation,” the report reads.

Even when controlling for other factors, like differences in income, the study finds that non-religious women under 30 report more than twice the amount of concern about financial obstacles to childbearing compared to women who regularly attend religious services.

“Being part of a community of shared values and mutual support that provides you with meaningful and powerful ways of thinking about and addressing the challenges in life has real benefit. That helps you achieve your goals in life,” Lyman Stone, a senior fellow at Cardus and the author of the study.

“But that’s not a silver bullet, right? We can’t just positive-think our way out of significant structural barriers to family life,” said Stone, who said he also supports government policies that help lighten the load, such as child benefit payments.

Stone said that it’s possible that religious women in Canada are simply getting more non-financial support from their community, such as child-minding, moral support, and items like hand-me-down clothing.

That could only be a partial explanation, because all women report similar levels of concern about these specific family-care duties, with the exception that non-religious women “are much more concerned that their partners will not share childcare responsibilities,” the study finds.

It could be that religion and the community that comes along with it, both do a good job of psychology preparing people for all of life’s hardships, said Stone.

The polling data finds that religion has three big effects on Canadians when it comes to family formation. Religious Canadians are more likely to desire larger families, to place a high social value on marriage and parenthood, and they also report benefiting from an extensive range of social support.

It’s not a silver bullet, though. Just like the rest of Canadian women, religious women are still having substantially fewer children than they would prefer.

A previous study by Cardus based on the same polling data found that Canadian women are having fewer children than they would prefer and, although religious women are having more children than non-religious women, they are still vastly under-shooting their preference.

Canadian women desire, on average 2.2 children, while Canada’s actual fertility rate sits at 1.4 children per woman. For comparison, the typical Protestant Canadian woman says she wants about three children. And although there are big differences among the various religious affiliations in Canada, they all desire more children than Canada’s current fertility rate of 1.4 children, even agnostics and atheists.

One thing that’s clear from the polling data is that the number of children a woman desires and intends to have rises in relation to the frequency she attends religious services.

Religious women are also more likely to be married and have more family-oriented dispositions, which also leads to larger family sizes. The study also points out that religious Canadians tend to marry earlier in life, meaning they simply have more time together during the years when conception is easiest.

It’s also the case that religion naturally creates a cultural incentive for families and children, which isn’t necessarily the case for the broader culture in Canada.

“Culture is a big part of it, norms, values, attitudes. So governments can think: are we feeding into public anxiety? Are we creating new sets of anxieties that wouldn’t have existed otherwise?” said Stone.

“There are a lot of other things that are adversely affected by a society where a growing share of people are just really anxious about a lot of things all the time. And so finding ways that our government or educational system can encourage stronger community support and greater mental and psycho-emotional resilience is a really important thing for all sorts of social outcomes, including fertility,” said Stone.

The report is based on a survey commissioned by Cardus with the Angus Reid Group in July 2022, which surveyed 2,700 women aged 18 to 44 about family and fertility.