New Brunswick MP Ginette Petitpas Taylor, named Canada's minister of health in a cabinet shuffle Monday, says she will draw on her social work experience in her new portfolio.
Petitpas Taylor, the Liberal MP for Moncton, Riverview and Dieppe, was sworn in during a lunch-hour ceremony at Rideau Hall.
Petitpas Taylor is the second New Brunswicker to take a seat in the cabinet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, after Beauséjour MP Dominic LeBlanc, minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.
Petitpas Taylor succeeds Jane Philpott, who is now minister of Indigenous services, responsible for providing services to non-self-governing communities.
Petitpas Taylor said she was honoured and humbled by the appointment and looked forward to the challenges of the portfolio.
A social worker for 24 years, Petitpas Taylor told the CBC that she had worked on the front lines with victims of violence and people with mental health and addiction issues in the past.
She now looked forward to bringing this experience to her work with the federal government, particularly with regard to the opioid crisis in Canada.
"I am looking forward to working with the department and with the provinces and territories, and to work collaboratively looking at the investments they will be making toward mental health to ensure Canadians receive the services they need," she said.
"I really feel there's a lot I can bring to the table with my background."
Petitpas Taylor added that she is still waiting to be briefed on her new position. But she said there are many issues and portfolios she will be working on, including the topic of the legalization of cannabis next year.
Earlier in the day, Petitpas Taylor told reporters that she wants to continue and build on the work of her predecessor in this and other areas.
She also said that she smoked pot on a few occasions in university "and that was it."
Petitpas Taylor said she learned of her appointment on Friday and has yet to contact any ministers in the territories and provinces, including New Brunswick Health Minister Victor Boudreau.
But she said it was a "good and proud day for New Brunswickers" to now have two ministers from the province in the federal cabinet.
Jamie Gillies, a political scientist at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, said Petitpas Taylor inherited one of the most challenging cabinet portfolios.
"She likely will be tasked with creating and implementing a health plan to confront the national opioid crisis, continue to develop more bilateral health agreements with individual provinces ... and of course confront the always relevant fiscal pressures of funding the Canadian health system," he said in an email to the CBC.
But Gillies also said that, for a smaller province such as New Brunswick, it will be helpful to have a minister at the federal table with a good understanding of the challenges in health care.
'I think Petitpas Taylor's appointment likely reflects the importance Atlantic Canada and New Brunswick play in the Trudeau government and adds to the centrality of our province in the national dialogue occurring in Ottawa.' - Jamie Gillies, political scientist
"Health care is one of the most important concerns for the people of New Brunswick," he said, adding that Petitpas Taylor's appointment will far from diminish the influence of Minister Dominique LeBlanc.
"I think Petitpas Taylor's appointment likely reflects the importance Atlantic Canada and New Brunswick play in the Trudeau government and adds to the centrality of our province in the national dialogue occurring in Ottawa," said Gillies.
'Great news' for New Brunswick
New Brunswick Health Minister Victor Boudreau said the appointment is great news for the province.
Boudreau said he's known Petitpas Taylor for many years and called her a "great" and "passionate" person.
"I just think it's great to have a minister who not only understands but is from New Brunswick and has lived a lot of the same experiences that we have here," he said.
"So when you are trying to advance a particular file or a particular initiative she's certainly going to know exactly what we are talking about."
Boudreau also thanked Philpott, saying the province had a good working relationship with her. Eight months ago, Philpott worked with the province on securing $230 million more in government funding for health care over the next decade, including home care and mental health.
New Brunswick now wants to develop a model for serving one of the oldest populations in the country and pilot some initiatives that could potentially be used in other provinces, he said.
- New Brunswick secures $230M more for health care from Ottawa over 10 years
- 'An unnecessary crisis': forming a plan for N.B.'s aging population
Boudreau said it would help to roll out some of these strategies faster "if we could get a partnership with the federal government."
"Obviously, having Ginette Petitpas Taylor now as minister hopefully will advance those discussions," he said, adding that it can only be beneficial to the province to have a second New Brunswick minister at the federal table.
"Not to say we don't have a great relationship already with the Trudeau government."
Premier Brian Gallant also congratulated Petitpas Taylor on the promotion, saying strengthening health care is a priority for New Brunswickers and he looks forward to working with her "in innovating and improving access to health care."
Other changes announced in the cabinet shuffle were Seamus O'Regan as the new minister of veterans affairs, and Carolyn Bennett, who was Indigenous affairs minister and is now Crown-Indigenous relations and northern affairs.
Kent Hehr, who was minister of veterans affairs, moves to sport and persons with disabilities, replacing Carla Qualtrough, who will head up the public services and procurement department. Qualtrough's department is responsible for addressing problems with the Phoenix payroll system and for managing major military procurements.