The Liberal government is dividing the Ministry of Indigenous and Northern Affairs in an effort to end "colonial" structures and build stronger relations with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the change as part of a federal cabinet shakeup that brings two new MPs to the cabinet table. New Brunswick MP Ginette Petitpas Taylor was promoted to health minister and backbench MP Seamus O'Regan was installed as veterans affairs minister.

Jane Philpott, the former health minister, becomes minister of Indigenous services, responsible for providing services for non-self-governing communities, while the current Indigenous affairs minister, Carolyn Bennett, becomes minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and Northern Affairs.

Philpott said dividing the departments into two will dismantle old "colonial structures" that were designed to dominate and assimilate Indigenous peoples.

"This is a historic day for Canada," she said after the swearing-in ceremony. "The work that is being done today, these are seismic shifts in the structures that oversee the relationship that Canada has as a representative of the Crown with Indigenous peoples in the country."

The recommendation to split responsibilities stems from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which submitted its report in October 1996.

Trudeau explains Indigenous and Northern Affairs shakeup2:16

Trudeau called the major bureaucratic change the "next step" in the reconciliation process, helping to move toward a real nation-to-nation partnership instead of a "paternalistic, colonial" approach to service delivery.

He said it will help guide the renewed, evolving Crown-Indigenous relationship to give First Nations, Métis and Inuit people more control over their own services, a process that will take decades if not generations.

"This is part of the transition," he said.

Trudeau said legislation to create the new two departments will likely be introduced this coming spring. He also recommitted to his campaign promise to end long-term boil water advisories in five years after taking office. 

Cabinet Shuffle 20170828

In a major change to Indigenous Affairs, Jane Philpott, who was health minister, becomes minister of Indigenous services, while Carolyn Bennett will be minister for Crown-Indigenous relations and Northern Affairs. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

At the time, there were  93 different communities under 133 different boil-water advisories, and to date 29 have been eliminated.

Assemby of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said the change signals a new approach to the nation-to-nation relationship.

"First Nations are working to move beyond the Indian Act and re-asserting our jurisdiction and sovereignty over our own lands, title and rights," he said in a statement.

'Symbolic change'

NDP Indigenous affairs critic Romeo Saganash described the splitting of the files as an acknowledgement the Liberal government has failed to comprehensively address the challenges in Indigenous communities across the country.

"The long-standing injustices cannot be addressed by any symbolic change, and I reiterate the NDP's call on the Liberal government to comply with legal orders to end discrimination of First Nations kids," he said in a statement. 

Bennett, Philpott tag team Indigenous portfolio1:43

Philpott said her priorities for Indigenous services will cover six priorities:

  • Child and family services.
  • Health care.
  • Infrastructure.
  • Education.
  • Food security.
  • Shelter and housing.

Qualtrough takes on Phoenix

In other moves, Kent Hehr shifts from veterans affairs to become minister of sport and persons with disabilities, the portfolio previously held by Carla Qualtrough.

Qualtrough, from B.C., will head up the public services and procurement department, which is responsible for addressing problems with the Phoenix payroll system and for managing major military procurements.

Ginette Petitpas Taylor, from N.B. was moved from parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance, to health minister. The rookie MP replaces the more experienced Philpott, who served in the health portfolio since Trudeau named his first cabinet, helping to shepherd through the assisted dying legislation. 

Cabinet Shuffle 20170828

Carla Qualtrough is sworn in as Minister of Public Services and Procurement at Rideau Hall Monday, inheriting such thorny files as the fighter jet replacement program and the Phoenix pay system. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The ministers were sworn in to their new portfolios at a midday ceremony at Rideau Hall.

The shakeup comes after last week's announcement from Judy Foote that she is retiring from politics.

Foote had been on a leave of absence from the public services portfolio since the spring, and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr has been handling the file.

O'Regan, a 46-year-old former television host and close personal friend of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, will be Newfoundland and Labrador's representative at the cabinet table.

Just months after he was elected in 2015, O'Regan, who co-hosted CTV's Canada AM for nearly a decade, announced he had entered into a wellness program to "adopt an alcohol-free lifestyle."

Cabinet Shuffle 20170828

Newfoundland and Labrador MP Seamus O'Regan is joining cabinet as veterans affairs minister. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

When asked about his recovery today, O'Regan said he has never been happier and healthier in his life, and that his medical team is pleased with his progress.

"There is nothing better than purposeful work, and this is more than my share of purposeful work," he said.

Trudeau appointed Canada's first gender-balanced cabinet after the last federal election, saying at the time his 30-member team was designed to showcase the country's talent and diversity. Monday's moves maintain that gender parity in the cabinet.