Politics

B.C.'s Duncan named Indian Affairs minister

B.C. MP John Duncan has been promoted to be the new minister for Indian Affairs and Northern Development in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet shuffle.

B.C. MP John Duncan has been promoted to be the new minister for Indian Affairs and Northern Development in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet shuffle.

Conservative MP John Duncan is sworn in as minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development during a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Friday. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))
Duncan, the Conservative MP for Vancouver Island North, replaces his former boss Chuck Strahl, who is moving from Indian Affairs to Transport to take over the portfolio from new government House Leader John Baird.

Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, congratulated Duncan on the appointment, saying in a statement it comes at a "time when we see a critical mass of support for change and innovation in the relationship between First Nations and Canada." 

"I am well acquainted with Mr. Duncan," Atleo said. "We have worked together in the past, and I look forward to working with him in his new role.

Despite Duncan having served as Strahl's parliamentary secretary at Indian Affairs, the Opposition Liberals are expressing concern over the departure of Strahl. 

Strahl oversaw the Conservative government's apology to former students of native residential schools in 2008, as well as the beleaguered Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is probing the assimilation and abuse aboriginal children faced at residential schools across Canada in the 20th century.

Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale said Indian Affairs ministers must spend more time creating a "level of trust" with aboriginal communities and leaders than in other cabinet jobs.

"It’s a portfolio that requires that kind of personal engagement, and you have to work at it and build it up over time," he said.

"I feel that on critical aboriginal issues, it means that time is going to be lost here and some momentum that Mr. Strahl had begun to build up will, unfortunately, be set back."

National Inuit Leader Mary Simon said she developed a "great respect" for Strahl during his term.

"I look forward to meeting with Minister Duncan at the earliest opportunity and working with him on the issues that are important to Canadian Inuit," she said.

Duncan was a divisional forester and contract supervisor for MacMillan Bloedel on Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands from 1976 to 1993. He was also president of the Queen Charlotte Islands Chamber of Commerce, and is founding president of the Port Clements Historical Society.

The prime minister said the cabinet shuffle was a result of the pending retirement of B.C. MP Jay Hill, who served as House leader since October 2008.

Hill, the veteran MP for the British Columbia riding of Prince George-Peace River, announced this summer he will not seek re-election in the next federal vote. He was first elected as an MP in 1993 for the now-defunct Reform Party.

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