Judy Foote resigning as minister and Liberal MP for family reasons
Joan Bryden and Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, August 24, 2017 10:19AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 24, 2017 5:28PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Judy Foote twice continued working to represent her Newfoundland and Labrador constituents while fighting gruelling battles with breast cancer, but it was a health risk to her children that prompted her to finally quit politics.
Foote announced Thursday that she's resigning immediately from the federal cabinet and will step down as a Liberal MP shortly after Parliament resumes next month.
She has been on an indefinite leave of absence from the Public Works and Government Services Department since April, due to unspecified family issues.
The two-time breast cancer survivor revealed Thursday that she inherited the cancer-causing BRCA2 gene and that testing has shown she passed it on to her children. Foote has two adult daughters and a son.
"What the BRCA2 gene means is that you are susceptible to any number of cancers and when it hits your children, it's a totally different ball game," an emotional Foote told a news conference in St. John's, surrounded by her husband, her children and four grandchildren.
While she is currently "cancer free" and her children are well, the 65-year-old Foote said the threat to their health "puts things in perspective."
Her family has always been supportive during her 28 years in politics -- eight as communications director for former premier Clyde Wells, 11 as a provincial MLA, nine as an MP -- and has never suggested "that I should give up the jobs that I love, the life that I love," she said.
"But you know, more than the jobs and the life, I love my family ... It's my decision to be with them, where I need to be and where they need me to be."
Retiring from politics seemed "far away" last April when she took the leave of absence. But Foote said the idea firmed up over the summer as the Sept. 18 resumption of Parliament loomed closer and she contemplated flying to Ottawa every Sunday, returning every Thursday or Friday and spending every weekend driving around the riding.
"That would not have made it possible for me to put my family first."
In the 2015 election, Foote won almost 82 per cent of the vote in her Bonavista-Burin-Trinity riding -- the highest vote share in the country. She fought back tears Thursday as she thanked her constituents for giving her the honour and privilege of representing them.
Asked why she's resigning immediately as a minister but holding on as an MP for a few more weeks, Foote explained that she wanted to give Prime Minister Justin Trudeau time to fill her post before he hosts a cabinet retreat in St. John's early next month but she also wanted more time to travel her sprawling riding and say goodbye to her constituents.
She tried to visit as many of the riding's 240 communities as she could over the summer "but there are still places I need to visit, there are so many people I need to thank."
Trudeau is not expected to immediately name a replacement for Foote, whose portfolio has been overseen on an interim basis by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr.
Public Works is one of the most onerous cabinet posts, with a huge array of responsibilities, including resolving the fiasco over the Phoenix pay system, which has resulted in public servants being overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all. Insiders say the job will go to an experienced minister, necessitating a small shuffle of the current cabinet lineup.
Foote was also responsible for the review of Canada Post's decision to end home mail delivery and the government's massive shipbuilding program.
As party whip when the Liberals were in opposition, Foote stickhandled an unprecedented, confidential inquiry into complaints by two female New Democrat MPs that they'd been sexually harassed by two male Liberal MPs. Backbenchers Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews were suspended from the Liberals caucus and ultimately left permanently before Trudeau expelled them.
"For more than 20 years, Judy Foote served the people of Newfoundland & Labrador with love and dedication," Trudeau tweeted Thursday. "We'll all miss her immensely."
While she's not asked Trudeau about it, Foote made it clear she expects he'll ensure that her province will continue to have representation at the cabinet table.
"I do know that he has a soft spot for Newfoundland and Labrador," she said, adding that any of the six Liberal backbenchers from the province would make a fine addition to the cabinet.
On that score, Liberals widely expect Trudeau to give rookie MP Seamus O'Regan a junior cabinet post.
O'Regan is a personal friend of Trudeau's. He and his partner were among the friends who accompanied Trudeau on a controversial family vacation last Christmas to the private Bahamian island owned by the Aga Khan, a billionaire philanthropist and spiritual leader of the world's Ismaili Muslims.
The previous Christmas, O'Regan spent the holidays in a "wellness centre" where he received treatment for alcoholism. The former host of CTV's Canada AM has openly discussed his struggles with alcoholism and mental illness.
Insiders say Trudeau may also appoint a new female MP to cabinet in order to retain gender parity among his ministers