Trudeau splits Indigenous file, two rookies appointed to front bench in cabinet shuffle
OTTAWA - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is splitting up the Indigenous file between ministers Jane Philpott and Carolyn Bennett, as part of Monday’s cabinet shuffle that also saw rookie MPs Seamus O’Regan and Ginette Petitpas Taylor promoted to the front bench.
Jane Philpott has been appointed minister of Indigenous services, a new portfolio. She was formerly health minister.
Carolyn Bennett becomes minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and northern affairs. She was previously the sole minister responsible for Indigenous and northern affairs.
It's a restructuring move Trudeau says is about resetting the nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous people.
“We are demonstrating with this change today that we are serious about taking the right steps to move beyond the Indian Act, but doing it in partnership and in collaboration with Indigenous peoples is, as always at the heart of the way Canada needs to move forward,” Trudeau told reporters following the swearing-in of the new cabinet ministers.
For now, the department of indigenous and northern affairs will stay intact, but the prime minister said legislative changes are coming to split up the bureaucracy to align with the new cabinet posts. The government is moving towards establishing two new departments: a Department of Indigenous Services, and Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.
The main job for both Philpott and Bennett will be following through on the Liberals’ promise to reset the federal relationship with indigenous peoples.
Philpott, in her minister of indigenous services role, will focus on the delivery of programs to First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, including education and housing, and could eventually oversee the transfer of indigenous services coming from other departments to come under her department’s purview.
Bennett, in her role as minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and northern affairs will include leading a consultation to determine how to best conduct the departmental overhaul; and to create a new “framework to advance a recognition of rights approach that will last well beyond this government,” according to a government statement on the changes.
“It’s a story that is about decolonizing. It’s a story about getting back to the original relationship… It is about getting rid of the paternalism and being able to understand that we have to move to a new way of working together. It is again about us stopping delivering government programs and begin to build Indigenous-led institutions and Indigenous-led governments,” Bennett told reporters Monday.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said the changes indicate a new approach towards resetting the relationship between First Nations and the Crown and that he’s looking forward to meeting with both ministers soon.
“First Nations are an order of government in Canada and the government has to be organized to address that reality,” Bellegarde said in a statement.
Among the mandate commitments the government has made on the file are: implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations; and boosting funding for First Nations education. The pair of ministers will also be looked to as the ones to get the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls back on track after critics have called for a reset.
NDP Indigenous affairs critic Romeo Saganash congratulated both Philpott and Bennett for their new roles. In a statement, Saganash said the government splitting up the responsibility “is an acknowledgement that the Liberal government has so far failed to comprehensively address the formidable challenges Indigenous communities face in Canada.”
It’s expected the new ministers will receive departmental briefings Monday, but the revised mandate letters for the new positions will not be immediately revealed, according to a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office.
The shuffle also saw Carla Qualtrough, a lawyer and former Paralympian, promoted to public services and procurement minister. She was previously the minister of sport and persons with disabilities. That position is now being taken by Kent Hehr, who was shuffled out of the veterans affairs portfolio.
As public services minister, Qualtrough inherits the problem-plagued Phoenix pay system that has left thousands of federal public servants with major payroll issues; as well as overseeing military procurement.
Hehr will take over stick-handling the forthcoming national accessibility legislation that Qualtrough had been drafting, prior to her promotion to public services.
“I look forward to sinking my teeth into it,” Hehr said about his new portfolio. He told reporters following the shuffle that as a quadriplegic and a former competitive athlete, the position marries two parts of his life well.
Trudeau also appointed rookies Seamus O'Regan and Ginette Petitpas Taylor to the front bench.
Liberal MP Ginette Petitpas Taylor has been appointed minister of health. She was previously parliamentary secretary for finance. The health portfolio will have Petitpas-Taylor take over the portion of the marijuana legalization file that Philpott had previous responsibility for. Taking questions following the shuffle Petitpas Taylor said she had smoked marijuana while in university.
Liberal MP Seamus O'Regan has been appointed veterans affairs minister and associate minister of defence, replacing Hehr. O’Regan told reporters Monday that growing up next to the Canadian Forces Base Goose Bay, and having a brother who is a lieutenant commander in the Navy gives him a “keen sense of some of the challenges both in the military and for our veterans.”
O’Regan is a close friend of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and shortly after being elected in 2015 announced he was seeking treatment for an alcohol problem. Speaking to media Monday, O’Regan said he’s “never been better.”
His appointment maintains the representation of Newfoundland and Labrador at the Cabinet table following Judy Foote’s resignation from cabinet last week for family health reasons.
Trudeau began his post-ceremony remarks thanking Foote for her years in public life.
Trudeau has made previous adjustments to his cabinet, including one considerable shuffle in January 2017 that saw some major portfolios rearranged to respond to the new U.S. administration under President Donald Trump.
Flanked by the six ministers he called “exceptional,” Trudeau said that while the government has made progress on its commitments, with the two-year mark of the government nearing, there’s still lots to do.
“These folks here with me today are going to be an important part of how we continue to move forward as a government in service of Canadians,” said Trudeau.