Burke moved out of education portfolio in small cabinet shuffle

Joan Burke was shuffled out of Newfoundland and Labrador's education portfolio on Thursday and into a new responsibility for children and youth.

Joan Burke was shuffled out of Newfoundland and Labrador's education portfolio on Thursday and into a new responsibility for children and youth.

Backbencher Darin King takes over as minister of education, the government said in a statement.

Burke, who sparked a countrywide controversy last year when she revealed that she had unilaterally vetoed an expert search committee's final two choices for the presidency of Memorial University, will take on duties in the newly formed Department of Child, Youth and Family Services.

The creation of the new department was a pillar of the provincial budget brought down March 26.

"Among others, her strong voice on student aid has directly resulted in our province having the best student aid package in the country," said Williams.

"[She] has a wealth of experience in child and youth services which ideally positions her to head up the creation of this important new department. I know that children, youth and families across the province will benefit from her outstanding leadership."  

Burke told reporters she is looking forward to starting a new department.

"I'm also eager to look at any of the issues that certainly have come up in recent years that need attention and be able to get at the policies and procedures to do the groundwork to make this probably the best department we can ever have," Burke said.

The department will play a key role in implementing recommendations coming out of the Zachary Turner child death review.

The review was ordered after Shirley Turner, a Newfoundland-raised physician, drowned herself and her young son in 2007 rather than surrender to U.S. authorities and face a murder charge in the shooting death of her former partner, Andrew Bagby. The review included stinging criticism of the child protection and justice systems.

Burke, who was appointed as government house leader last year, has been a key member of the Progressive Conservative government, and not shy from attracting controversy. Last summer, she astonished — and angered — academic groups when she said that she had instructed the presidential search committee at Memorial University to find new finalists for the position.

The ensuing controversy over academic freedom has dogged the government since. Robert Simmonds, the newly appointed head of the university's board of regents said in February he would quit if any minister intervened again in a selection process that only recently was relaunched.

While Burke made herself directly involved in the presidential search, Williams told reporters Thursday that King will play no role.

"This time it is my understanding we will not be asked nor will we be seeking to be involved in interviews, and if we are asked we will not get involved. So that's as simple as it is," Williams said.

King had been the  former chief executive officer and education director of the Eastern School District, the province's largest school board.

A native of Fortune, King was first elected to the house of assembly in the 2007 general election. He represents Grand Bank district.

Williams described King as an "experienced and eminently qualified educator [who] brings extensive credentials to his new role."