The Power of Words

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As a writer, I believe in the power of words. They can anger, inspire, hurt, and move. Words are, quite literally, symbols, carrying a heavy load of meaning depending on how they are said or the context they are used in. Thus, I am a little bemused when journalists ask if the words used to describe the Ministries in Justin Trudeau’s new Cabinet will make a difference. Do they have no pride in their own profession?

Of course, the title of things is not simply so you can have an easy to say acronym. What you call a thing is what it becomes. So, to mention the word Science in not one but two Ministers’ titles says something about this government’s attitude towards science and the importance of evidence in decision making. Hence, the immediate restoration of the long form census – which Tony Clement suggests he now wishes he hadn’t abolished.

The words we use to indicate the job of a minister are exactly the words we will use to hold them accountable. Having added the words Climate Change to the Minister of Environment’s title says, quite bluntly, that this issue is now at the forefront of the government’s agenda. This creates great expectations that they will actually do something and, if they fail, it will be a major club which other parties can use to beat them up with.

Similarly, the Minister of Industry is now the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development – which suggests a substantially different focus for the things he will do and support. One of the great criticisms of Canada’s lack of economic performance is that our industries are not very good at innovation. They stick with the tried and the true – or keep their money in the bank. It is not entirely their fault – previous governments (and especially the Harper one) were inconsistent in their support for innovation. That has to change if the economy is going to grow.

And a growing economy is at the centre of the Liberal economic plan – economic growth leads to higher government revenues without the need to raise taxes and to quote Mr. Trudeau, “the deficit will take care of itself.” While this statement was mocked in election ads, it is actually basic economics as our previous PM must surely have known, right?

There are other words of importance, simply because they were stated without addition. Having a Minister for the Status of Women, without it simply being an add on to some other job as it has frequently been, indicates a real commitment to make women’s issues front and centre (as if having half the Cabinet women hadn’t already made that clear). Making it clear that there is a Minister of Science, a Minister of Democratic Institutions also make it clear that these are important priorities of the government.

I could go on but you get the picture. The next question is, of course, can they turn words into actions? I expect we’ll have the answer to that in the next hundred days.

But that’s ten minutes.

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