News / Ottawa

Trudeau shuffles cabinet, Indigenous Affairs department restructured

Trudeau split the department that was run by Carolyn Bennett into two, leaving her with responsibility for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks to the media with members of his newly-shuffled cabinet. From left, Carolyn Bennett, Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Jane Philpott, Carla Qualtrough, Kent Hehr and Seamus O'Regan.

LARS HAGBERG / AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks to the media with members of his newly-shuffled cabinet. From left, Carolyn Bennett, Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Jane Philpott, Carla Qualtrough, Kent Hehr and Seamus O'Regan.

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made significant changes to his government with bigger-than-expected cabinet shuffle and an overhaul of his government’s approach to Indigenous Affairs to eliminate what it called Canada’s longstanding “colonial” approach to aboriginal issues.

Trudeau split the department that was run by Carolyn Bennett into two, leaving her with responsibility for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. Cabinet heavyweight Jane Philpott was moved out of health to become Minister of Indigenous Services to focus on the delivery of real services to First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

Bennett, who had shown much empathy, had little success in advancing the progress of the beleaguered Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry. It wasn’t immediately clear if that file would remain with her.

The new mandate letters published by the government say that both ministers will work to develop an approach and mandate for the inquiry, “including the identification of a lead minister.”

The departure of Philpott from Health is a risky move, since the government has not yet advanced its project to legalize marijuana beyond the early stages of parliamentary study of two massive bills to achieve that major platform goal.

But it speaks to the confidence Trudeau has in Philpott and in backbencher Ginette Petitpas Taylor, a parliamentary secretary to finance who got a big promotion to step into Philpott’s role as Health Minister.

The shuffle was prompted by the resignation of Newfoundland MP Judy Foote, who was the Minister of Public Works.

Carla Qualtrough was named to take Foote’s place. She had been the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities.

She takes over a department that is wrestling to fix problems with the Phoenix pay system that has left bureaucrats without their salary. Problems with defence procurement are another perennial headache for the department.

Seamus O’Reagan was named the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence. The post combines both the symbolic — helping to represent the government at public commemorations — and a significant administrative role, overseeing a department that has been criticized for how it dispenses assistance to veterans, notably those who are ill and injured.

O’Reagan replaces Kent Hehr, who takes over as Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities vacated by Qualtrough.

Bennett will be supported in her role by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, and her new job description is to figure out how to create two new departments, and to “accelerate self-government and self-determination agreements” based on new policies, laws and operational practices “and to develop a framework to advance a recognition of rights approach that will last well beyond this government.”

A government source told the Star that “‎we believe we’ve pushed the old colonial structure” of the Indigenous Affairs department “as far as it can go.”

“The new structure is meant to deliver more. This was recommended by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples about 20 years ago. We thought about doing it during the transition, but decided we needed to push the existing structure to deliver as much as it could.”

More on Metronews.ca