Seamus O’Regan, the former veterans affairs minister, assumed the federal government’s Indigenous Services portfolio in Monday’s cabinet reshuffle.
A TV broadcaster before entering politics, O’Regan is the MP for the Newfoundland riding of St John’s South – Mount Pearl.
He replaces Jane Philpott, who becomes president of the treasury board in place of Scott Brison, who sparked the reshuffle by resigning last week.
“His passion and advocacy will help us as we walk the road of reconciliation with our Indigenous partners,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters following O’Regan’s swearing-in.
“I know he will work tirelessly … to bring about real change for Indigenous communities in this country.”
Responding on Twitter, Conservative MP Erin O’Toole said O’Regan’s assignment was “quite a head scratcher,” adding he felt Indigenous Canadians “will be concerned.”
‘Capacity to get things done’
O’Regan is only the second person to hold the title of minister for Indigenous services. Philpott was the inaugural appointee after the position’s creation in August 2017.
O’Regan’s responsibilities include healthcare, water, and other services to Indigenous communities, whereas Carolyn Bennett, the minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, oversees issues such as treaty rights and land claims.
A third minister, Dominic LeBlanc, holds responsibility for northern affairs.
Previously a host of Canada AM and a reporter for CTV National News, O’Regan was elected in 2015 and had been the minister for veterans affairs since 2017.
“We know there are two areas in which the federal government has direct delivery responsibility: for our veterans and our Indigenous peoples,” Trudeau continued. “That is where we are putting tremendous emphasis as a government.
“Seamus’s strength in delivering significant improvements to veterans over the past years has demonstrated his capacity to get things done for Canadians.
“His experience and interactions with Indigenous peoples throughout his life will help him in terms of making sure this government is living up to its responsibility to fix the most important relationship we have, that with Indigenous peoples.”
O’Regan has in the past drawn fire for comments that were perceived to be insensitive, while he and his partner, Steve Doussis, were among those who accompanied Trudeau on a controversial 2016 Christmas vacation to a private island owned by the Aga Khan.
Prior to that, he came through an alcohol treatment program having publicly declared: “I’ve decided after consultation with family that I can be most effective as a member of Parliament by adopting an alcohol-free lifestyle.”
Conditions were so cold in Ottawa on Monday that, on arriving outside to speak to reporters, O’Regan tried to sip water from a glass – only to discover the water was frozen solid.
He subsequently dismissed a question about past controversies, saying: “I don’t want anything at all to distract from the work that I do.
“The work that I inherit now is about Indigenous peoples and their communities, and making sure that they have the very basic things so many of us want: clean water, healthcare, education, child and family services, and a bright, prosperous future – and helping them achieve that.”
Responding to O’Regan’s appointment in a statement, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde said: “Cabinet positions will change, but First Nations peoples and issues must remain a top priority.
“We will work to ensure the entire cabinet understands that the First Nations agenda is Canada’s agenda. Progress moves us all forward. We’ll be delivering this message to the Prime Minister and his cabinet at our meeting today on First Nations priorities.”
Bellegarde and regional chiefs were to meet the Prime Minister and senior cabinet ministers on Monday afternoon, the AFN said.
“I look forward to meeting with the new Minister of Indigenous Services Seamus O’Regan … as soon as possible,” said Bellegarde.