Less than a month before the House of Commons reconvenes for its Fall Session on September 18th, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shaken up his cabinet for the second time in 2017, elevating two new Ministers and giving the front bench a substantial makeover with changes at Health, Veteran’s Affairs, Public Services and Procurement and a major retooling of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, which will now dissolve into two separate departments.
Two first-term Atlantic Canadian MPs have received major promotions. Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe MP Ginette Petitpas Taylor takes over for Jane Philpott at Health. Petitpas Taylor has long been considered as a rising star within the Trudeau Government, having previously served as Deputy Government Whip and then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance. She arrives at Health at a crucial time on numerous fronts including the ongoing fentanyl epidemic, the overhaul of the Canada Food Guide, the introduction at second reading to Bill S-5 (An Act to amend the Tobacco Act and the Non-smokers’ Health Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts), and shepherding the Government’s marijuana legalization effort Bill C-45 through the House and Senate.
St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP Seamus O’Regan is taking over the portfolio of Veterans Affairs and assuming responsibility as Newfoundland and Labrador’s representative in Cabinet following the retirement last week of former Public Services Minister Judy Foote. O’Regan is a close friend of Prime Minister Trudeau and was a Canada AM Host and CTV correspondent prior to his election in 2015.
Jane Philpott moves from the Health portfolio to assume the role of the newly minted Minister of Indigenous Services while Carolyn Bennett remains on the file with the reconfigured title Minister of Crown-Aboriginal Relations and Northern Affairs. The Government has promised updated mandate letters specifying responsibilities within a few weeks, but based on available information, Minister Philpott will oversee continued service delivery measures from the Federal Government to First Nations. Minister Bennett’s work will continue reconciliation and consultation regarding nation-to-nation relationships, the building of self-governance models and how best to replace INAC. The recommendation to create two separate departments stems from the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which believed the old department was too mired in the mistakes of the past and a reset was necessary. This view was echoed by the Prime Minister who was quoted upon leaving Rideau Hall that “there’s a sense that we’ve pushed the creaky old structures at INAC as far as they can go.” The dissolution of Indigenous and Northern Affairs will require legislation to enact, which Prime Minister Trudeau told reporters would be forthcoming, possibly by next Spring.
Two Western-Canadian Ministers receive new assignments. Calgary retains its voice at the Cabinet table with Kent Hehr moving from Veteran’s Affairs to become Minister of Sport and Disabilities, taking over for BC’s Carla Qualtrough. Qualtrough is being moved to the Public Services and Procurement file, where she will continue the difficult task of fixing the Federal Phoenix Pay System, as well as overseeing the Government’s delayed Defence Procurement Strategy.
What was expected to be a relatively minor change following the retirement of Judy Foote turns out to be a major reshaping of the Trudeau Cabinet two months shy of the halfway point of its mandate. The Prime Minister and his Liberal Party remain atop the national opinion polls, but 22 months into their government, are beginning to be more heavily scrutinized on issues they came to office promising to fix. That scrutiny will intensify in the Fall as they prepare to face a re-energized Conservative Official Opposition helmed by Andrew Scheer in the first full session of the House of Commons, as well as a new full-time leader of the New Democratic Party once the contest to replace Thomas Mulcair wraps up in October.
Moving Jane Philpott to the Aboriginal File signifies an awareness of vulnerability on one of the cornerstone issues the Trudeau Government came to office on. Reports from various news outlets including the Toronto Star and Vice News have indicated the Trudeau Liberals have made little progress on their pledge to end Canada’s 133 boil water advisories on First Nation Reserves by 2021. Similarly, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has been heavily criticized by stakeholders and indigenous groups for being opaque and slow moving – its executive director, and one of five Commissioners have resigned since early last year. Minster Philpott is considered one of the Trudeau Government’s most capable performers following her work on negotiating individual Health Accords with every Province and Territory throughout 2017, as well as serving as the face of the assisted dying legislation Bill C-14 last year. The Prime Minister believes if anyone can give the Liberals a much-needed win on this file, it will be her. With this move, the government is signalling its commitment to renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples.
As parliamentary session approaches, Sussex will be reaching out to the newly appointed Minister as well as those going to a new file. As always, we are available to answer any specific questions and provide further insight around today’s shuffle.