PM Harper names new aboriginal affairs minister
Bernard Valcourt takes over the portfolio vacated by John Duncan
(updated Feb. 23 at 8:55 a.m.)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has appointed Bernard Valcourt of New Brunswick, the Conservative MP for Madawaska-Restigouche, as minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
Valcourt, who also served in the cabinet of former PM Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government, “will continue the government’s work to advance dialogue on aboriginal issues and take achievable steps that will provide better education and economic outcomes for aboriginal peoples across Canada,” Harper said in a Feb. 22 statement.
The appointment came after John Duncan, the Conservative MP for Vancouver Island North, resigned as AAND minister on Feb. 15.
Terry Audla, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said in a Feb. 22 statement that he was pleased that a new minister to the department had been appointed “so swiftly.”
“I look forward to meeting with Bernard Valcourt in the very near future, Audla said.
Valcourt, 60, was first elected to the House of Commons of Canada as a Progressive Conservative candidate in the 1984 election that brought Brian Mulroney to power.
Valcourt was appointed as minister of State in 1986. Then in January 1989, he was promoted to minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, but resigned several months later when he was involved in an impaired driving incident on a motorcycle, in which he lost an eye.
Valcourt later returned to cabinet as minister of Fisheries and Oceans, then as minister of Employment and Immigration until he lost his seat in 1993.
In May 1995, Valcourt was elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick, but Valcourt resigned that position in 1997 and returned to the House of Commons in 2011.
Prior to his appointment to the AAND portfolio, Valcourt served as Minister of State for both the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and La Francophonie.
“It is with humility that I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to appoint me as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. I would like to thank the Prime Minister for placing his confidence in me on this most important file,” Valcourt said in a statement.
Valcourt said his government has made significant progress in improving outcomes for aboriginal peoples across Canada.
“We have built new schools, invested in clean drinking water systems, built thousands of new homes, increased funding for services for the most vulnerable members of First Nations communities, and invested in hundreds of projects to link aboriginal people with job training services. But there is more to do. This January, the Government committed itself to a high-level dialogue on the treaty relationship and comprehensive claims. I am firmly of the view that working together is the best way to achieve our shared objective of healthier, more prosperous and self-sufficient aboriginal communities.”
Valcourt said he looked forward to meeting with aboriginal leaders in the weeks and months to come and working with the territorial governments.
However, a “more senior minister” should be handling the AAND portfolio, the New Democratic Party’s aboriginal affairs critic Jean Crowder said in a Feb. 22 statement.
“Unfortunately the new minister’s statement accepting this position repeated the same tired Conservative line that this government is only going to work with ‘willing partners’ and only on the priorities the Conservatives outlined,” she said.
Crowder urged the federal government to “live up to commitments Conservatives made at the Crown-First Nations gathering when they voted to support our motion to make improving economic outcomes for all Aboriginal peoples a priority in the upcoming budget.”
“As recent grassroots protests have demonstrated, Canadians are moving past the old rhetoric and want the federal government to engage in a meaningful way with First Nations, Inuit and Metis,” Crowder said.
Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak welcomes Valcourt to his new role.
“The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada handles matters of great importance to Nunavut and we are pleased Prime Minister Harper filled this position quickly,” Aariak said in a Feb. 22 statement.
“I invite Minister Valcourt to visit Nunavut in the near future to gain a better understanding of Nunavut’s vast potential and our unique situation in Canada,” she said.
Aariak said she enjoyed a strong working relationship with previous AAND minister Duncan.