The Honourable Rechie Valdez
Our Filipino Voice in Canada’s Cabinet
by Dr. Rey D. Pagtakhan
The Honourable Rechie Valdez, Minister of Small Business (official photo)
With Dr. Rey & Gloria Pagtakhan
The 26th of July 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 their voice at the federal cabinet table – the highest body for national-decision making – once more. The only prior presence of a Filipino voice at the Canadian Cabinet was around 20 years ago when this columnist served in the cabinet from 2001 to 2004 during the leaderships of Prime Ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, Jr.
Making Canadian history twice
With her election to the House of Commons on September 20, 2021, Rechie Valdez made 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 the first Canadian Filipina to become a member of Canada’s Cabinet.
Major cabinet change
The 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 cabinet members divided equally among men and women. Thus, the prime minister has kept the gender-parity precedent he established in 2015. Eight members, a fifth of the total are visible minorities.
It is laudable of the prime minister to constitute this cabinet composition. 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 commentary on Rechie Valdez’ election to the House of Commons, 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, a vision-and-value-driven leadership style, a relevant prior work resume, team player, and a deep sense of others.”
Let me add another dimension from Canadian Filipino Net’s immediate past Editor Eleanor R. Laquian’s editorial, “Diminishing Filipino Invisibility in Politics, thanks to Filipino Women Power.” She wrote: “Many of these women are adventurous, daring, and indomitable. They have proven to be community organizers, risk-takers, trailblazers, and envelope pushers.”
Rechie Valdez fits the mould, indeed. She is eminently prepared. As an MP, 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 the cabinet – the better not only for Canadian Filipinos but also for all Canadians.
How did Filipinos receive the news?
July 26 was a moment of great excitement for the Filipino community across Canada and beyond. 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 of Canadian Filipino Net based in Vancouver. They were wanting to share the news.
Truly, everyone was thrilled. I did an interview via ZOOM, e-mailed my initial thoughts, and confirmed the topic for my column. Then, I was able to 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.”
I’m confident all Canadian Filipinos across the country – close to a million – and Filipinos in the Philippines and abroad beyond Canada share my sentiments. Michelle Abad, a multimedia reporter at Rappler.com based in the Philippines, promptly featured Valdez’ profile the following day, “Who is Rechie Valdez, first Filipino woman in the Canadian Cabinet?” As well, mainstream Canadian media like the Canadian Press provided their coverage.
Indeed, 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 a timely and welcome choice in Rechie 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 (cabinet solidarity). The principle 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 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.”
Thus, 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 will be personally fulfilling.
Being at the cabinet table also means she is able to bring the Filipino voice directly to national decision-making. And that perspective includes bringing to the attention of the Canadian Government a range of issues that matter not only to Canadians in general but also to Canadian Filipinos in particular. One most recent example is helping “boost Canadian-Philippines ties.
The Honourable Dr. Rey D. Pagtakhan, P.C., O.M., LL.D., Sc.D., M.D. M.Sc. – a former Member of Canada’s Parliament, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and cabinet minister and a retired lung specialist and professor of pediatrics and child health at the University of Manitoba Faculty of Medicine and – graduated from the University of the Philippines, did postgraduate studies at the Children’s Hospitals of Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, and spent a sabbatical year as Visiting Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson. He has maintained this column, Medisina at Politika, since 2012 as part of his continuing civic and political engagement.
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