Digital Government Minister Joyce Murray succeeds when opposition parties barely notice what she's doing

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      I felt a great deal of skepticism late last year when Justin Trudeau reappointed Vancouver Quadra MP Joyce Murray as the minister of digital government.

      It smacked of a demotion because the prime minister handed her other pre-election cabinet post, president of the treasury board, to Québec MP Jean-Yves Duclos.

      And it came after another Vancouver MP, Jody Wilson-Raybould, had quit the cabinet and was thrown out of caucus in connection with the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

      To me, it seemed like Trudeau was merely tossing a scrap to Vancouver residents by giving the digital-government post to Murray.

      It would merely ensure that there would continue to be two cabinet ministers from Vancouver when the real regional power brokers in cabinet from the West Coast were going to be Delta's Carla Qaualtrough and North Vancouver's Jonathan Wilkinson. 

      That's because Qualtrough is the minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, whereas Wilkinson's portfolio is environment and climate change.

      Vancouver South MP Harjit Sajjan continues serving as the defence minister, a post he's held since 2015.

      Qualtrough, Wilkinson, and Sajjan were elected for the first time at any level in the Trudeau landslide of 2015. They owed their rapid rise in federal politics to the prime minister.

      Murray, on the other hand, had previous cabinet experience in the first B.C. Liberal government and was first elected to Parliament in a by-election in 2008.

      She also had the temerity to run against Trudeau when he was on his way to being crowned Liberal leader in 2013

      But an unexpected development—a pandemic—has actually made Murray a bigger player than when she was appointed as the minister of digital government in December.

      Of course, there was no mention of COVID-19 in the prime minister's mandate letter to Murray on December 13, 2019.

      Back then, she was instructed to, among other things, improve citizen service through a transition to a more digital government.

      In addition, she was tasked with identifying at-risk IT systems and platforms.

      Another responsibility was to support the minister of innovation, science and industry, Navdeep Bains, on "the ethical use of data and digital tools like artificial intelligence for better government".

      And Murray was advised to encourage the use and development of open-source products and open data "to share knowledge and expertise to support innovation".

      Since then, the federal government was able to deliver the Canada Emergency Response Benefit to millions of Canadians who were suddenly thrown out of work after the pandemic was declared in March.

      It went off without a hitch.

      Late last week, Murray announced a web-based tool, "Find financial help during COVID-19" to help people figure out which benefit programs are most suitable for their requirements.

      There, people can learn more about the Canada Emergency Student Benefit and the Canada Child Benefit top-up, as well as the CERB and mortgage and student-loan deferrals.

      It's exactly the type of thing that Canadians need right now.

      It turns out that a cabinet position traditionally viewed as fairly irrelevant—delivering online services—has suddenly assumed far greater importance.

      In some respects, it's a thankless job. Nobody will notice if everything is going smoothly. But the moment the cheques stop arriving, the opposition will be screaming for Murray to be fired.

      So far, the Vancouver Quadra MP has flown well below the radar of the media and the opposition, which suggests she's getting things done.

      All of this demonstrates that there's something to be said for experience in government—even though this hasn't always been appreciated by Trudeau when it comes to choosing who should be sitting at his cabinet table.