Canada’s health minister has become the country’s environment minister in a cabinet shuffle that puts the panel’s only aboriginal minister into one of the government’s most sensitive posts for First Nations.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq as environment minister, tasked with finalizing federal greenhouse-gas-emission regulations in the oil and gas sector, among other charges, according to The Globe and Mail.
Peter Kent, a former broadcast journalist who had been in the post, has been “demoted … to the back benches,” The Globe and Mail reported. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver will stay in his position, as will Bernard Valcourt, who replaced John Duncan as minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development earlier this year. (Related: Bernard Valcourt Replaces John Duncan at Helm of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada)
“Ms. Aglukkaq will be expected to take on a more prominent role as the government tries to persuade United States President Barack Obama that Canada can be counted to address emissions from the oil sands as he considers whether to approve TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline to transport Canadian bitumen to the U.S.,” The Globe and Mail noted.
The cabinet change, which added four women to the mix, was Harper’s biggest since he took office in 2006, the Associated Press reported.
Aboriginal reactions ranged from ambivalent to wary. The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) referenced the need to seriously address First Nations concerns about the controversial bills C-45 and C-38, which aboriginals say gut the environmental review process for potentially harmful projects. The representative body called for a new approach to development that engages with all First Nations.
“Canada is proposing hundreds of billions of dollars in resource activity over the coming years, all of which will be in and around the traditional territories of First Nations,” said AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. “If any of this activity is to proceed, First Nations must ensure that it is sustainable and responsible and that the plans meet the international standard of free, prior and informed consent by the First Nations involved.”
“For the First Nations in Ontario, this Cabinet shuffle created barely a ripple. For our leaders and the people they serve, it is not who is in what position in the federal Cabinet that matters—it is about a change in approach brought about by a willingness to respect the sacred Treaties and the hard-won rights of Indigenous peoples in this country that is important,” said AFN Regional Chief Stan Beardy in a statement on behalf of the Chiefs of Ontario.
“Prime Minister Harper has the opportunity to build a legacy by changing the First Nations-Government relationship in a positive way,” Beardy said on July 17, the day after reports surfaced about the Canadian government conducting nutrition experiments on aboriginal children during World War II. (Related: Canadian Govt. Watched Kids Starve Like Lab Rats for 'Science') “At this point in time we are not optimistic.”