[Editor’s Note:This commentary is from Dr. Pagtakhan’s column, Medisina at Politika, published in Pilipino Express based in Winnipeg.]
August 1, 2023 - Winnipeg - The 26th ultimo saw Member of Parliament Rechie Valdez elevated to Minister of Small Business when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a major cabinet shuffle.
With Valdez’ political promotion, Canadian Filipinos have once more their Filipino voice at the federal cabinet table – the highest body for national-decision making. The only prior presence of a Filipino voice at the Canadian Cabinet was around 20 years ago when this columnist served in Cabinet from 2001 to 2004 during the leaderships of Prime Ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, Jr.
Creating Canadian history twice
With her September 20, 2021 election to the House of Commons – nearly three decades and three years from when this columnist was first elected on November 21, 1988 – Rechie Valdez created Canadian history as the second Canadian Filipino and the first Canadian Filipino woman to become a Member of Canada’s Parliament (MP).
With her recent appointment as Minister, Valdez achieved her second political milestone in Canadian history by becoming the second Canadian Filipino and thefirst Canadian Filipina to become a member of Canada’s Cabinet.
Major cabinet change
The July 26th Cabinet change was sweeping. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau retained only nine ministers in their respective portfolio; 23 ministers changed assignments; and seven new faces were added – a total of 38 divided equally among men and women. Thus, the Prime Minister has kept the gender-parity precedent he established in 2015. Eight – a fifth of the total – were visible minorities.
It was laudable of the Prime Minister to design this Cabinet compositionas constituted. In a news release, he said: “We have the right team, made up of accomplished people who reflect the diversity and talent of our country. We are ready to keep delivering on the things that matter most … making life more affordable, growing the economy, and creating good jobs for the middle class. Together, we will keep building a strong future for the middle class, and for all Canadians.”
Fitting the Cabinet mould
In my 2021 commentary on Rechie Valdez’ election to the House of Commons, 44th Parliament: Historic times again and opportunities for Canadian Filipinos, I wrote in part: “Every MP wants to be a cabinet minister … Best, though, that one has a keen and analytic mind, humility, integrity, decisiveness, enviable work ethic, vision-and-value-driven leadership style, relevant prior work resume, team player, and a deep sense of others.”
Let me add another dimension from CFNet’s immediate past Editor Eleanor R. Laquian’s editorial, Diminishing Filipino Invisibility in Politics, thanks to Filipino Women Power. Sharing her insights on Filipino women, she wrote: “Many of these women are adventurous, daring and indomitable. They have proven to be community organizers, risk-takers, trailblazers and envelope pushers.”
Indeed, Rechie Valdez fits the mould. She has done an awful lot as a backbencher.She has been serious, sincere, energetic and hardworking. Those traits, along with her active community engagement and background as a small business entrepreneur, will serve her well in her cabinet portfolio – the better not only for Canadian Filipinos but also for all Canadians.
Her appointment also reflects the Prime Minister’s trust in her capabilities to deliver the goods and the valuable contribution Canadian Filipinos have given back to the country.
How did Filipinos receive the news?
July 26 was a moment of great excitement for the Filipino community across Canada and beyond. I knew. Before I could go back to my computer from my yard work and send my congratulatory e-mail, I had a phone message from Rowena Papasin-Cando of ABS-CBN International -The Filipino Channel based in Vancouver, followed by e-mails from Lucille Nolasco Garrido of Pilipino Express based in Winnipeg and from Editor Carlito Pablo ofCanadian Filipino Net based in Vancouver. They were wanting to share the news of Rechie Valdez’ ministerial appointment and were requesting to do an interview, obtain a quote for a news report, or suggest a topic for my column, Medisina at Politika.
Truly, everyone was thrilled. And I was delighted to oblige: did the interview via ZOOM, e-mailed my initial thoughts, and confirmed the topic for my column.
At 9:33 PM, I was able to finally send my congratulatory e-mail: “Hi Rechie, I am excited and pleased. Your ministerial appointment today…reflects Prime Minister Trudeau's trust in your capabilities and the importance he has attached to small businesses as a force for economic prosperity. As well as to the vital role Canadian Filipinos can continue to play in the affairs of Canada, including as a vital political force - a validation that Canadian Filipinos have come of age! I salute you on your exciting ministerial appointment… to the Government of Canada.”
The mainstream Canadian media like the Canadian Press provided their coverage.Michelle Abad, a multimedia reporter with Rappler.com based in the Philippines, promptly featured the following day Valdez’ profile, Whois Rechie Valdez, first Filipino woman in the Canadian Cabinet?
Indeed, I am confident all Canadian Filipinos across the country – now ever closer to a million – and Filipinos in the Philippines and abroad beyond Canada share my sentiments.
We see ourselves once more not only in the backbench of Parliament but also in the front bench as a member of the Government of Canada. And that is very critical and important. It motivates our community to offer more of ourselves to civic engagement and politics and thereby increase our representation in our parliamentary democracy.
We can all salute Minister Valdez for this additional milestone in her political career even as we say 'Thank You' to Prime Minister Trudeau for making the timely and welcome choice in Valdez' appointment to the Cabinet.
What does it mean being at the Cabinet table?
“The Cabinet is the central decision-making forum in government, responsible for its administration and the establishment of its policy,” reads the Prime Minister’s website. “Its members are each responsible for individual portfolios or departments.”
Let me elaborate briefly. Responsible government is a cornerstone of the Canadian system of government, that is, “that a government must be responsive to its citizens; that it must operate responsibly (i.e., be well organized in developing and implementing policy); and that its Ministers may be regarded as the device for achieving it.”
With respect to ministerial responsibility, “Ministers have both individual and collective responsibilities to Parliament…(They) are expected to take responsibility for, and defend, all Cabinet decisions. The principle (of Cabinet solidarity)provides stability within the framework of ministerial government by uniting the responsibilities of the individual Ministers under the collective responsibility of the Crown.”
In Canada, the state or the country is commonly referred to as ‘the Crown in right of Canada’ which is the country’s ‘supreme executive authority.’
In practice, “executive authority” in Canada is vested “in the Governor General acting with the advice and consent of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.”
Therein lies the power of the Cabinet. Being at the Cabinet table means Rechie Valdez’ arc of public service obligations has just become wider. Her duties and responsibilities as MP for Mississauga-Streetsville have become heavier. They will continue even as she attends to her ministerial mandate. She will certainly need more working hours and time management, but assuredly her promotion would be personally fulfilling as the twin offices complement each other.
Daunting? Rechie Valdez has been quoted earlier, saying: “As I thought about the opportunity of going into politics, I realized that I get to ultimately do the thing that I love to do but at a much larger scale.” She is prepared for the new challenge.
Being at the Cabinet table also means she is able to bring directly to national decision-making the Filipino voice. And that perspective includes bringing to the attention of the Canadian Government a range of issuesthat matter not only to Canadians in general but also to Canadian Filipinos in particular.Two recent examples of the latter include helping “boost Canadian- Philippines ties” and “improve foreign-credentials recognition”nationwide (see the two relevant news reportselsewhere in this edition).
While I am confident all Canadian Filipinos across the country and abroad beyond Canada share my sentiments, there is more than simply a sense of personal and community excitement, important as it is to everyone.
Canadian Filipinos nationwide are resolute in the belief that with the Honourable Rechie Valdez at Canada’s Cabinet table, our Filipino voice would have an overwhelming opportunity to influence:
1) the lives of our nation’s people and her institutions,
2) the civic and educational aspirations of our youth,
3) the plight of the vulnerable and marginalized sectors of our rank and file,
4) the security and safety of our seniors,
5) the stability and strength of our social programs,
6) the integrity and independence of our judiciary and civil service,
7) the prosperity of our economy,
8) the priorities of our particular community, and
9) the very essence of Canadian nationhood itself.
As Canada’s Minister of Small Business and, therefore, part of the “country’s ‘supreme executive authority,’” the Honourable Richie Valdez will deliver big and do well. She is eminently prepared for the new challenge.Felicitations andMabuhay,Madam Minister!