OTTAWA—Toronto-area MP Jane Philpott has taken the helm of spending and operations for the federal government, sealing her reputation as a fixer in Justin Trudeau’s goververnment.
Philpott’s move was revealed Monday during a cabinet shuffle that named her President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government.
It’s the third cabinet spot held by the MP for Markham-Stouffville — a doctor who was first elected in 2015 — following stints in health and Indigenous services. Monday’s appointment confirms that she is seen as a capable and steady hand at the cabinet table.
In her new role, Philpott will oversee government operations and spending, a powerful position but one largely out of view of most Canadians. She was vice-chair of the treasury board and she replaces Scott Brison, a Nova Scotia MP who announced last week that he was stepping down from cabinet and would not run again in the October election.
Monday’s surprise move was Jody Wilson-Raybould’s appointment as veterans affairs minister, moving from justice, where she was the first aboriginal woman to hold the porfolio, to a line department where dealing with people will be key.
Seamus O’Regan, who was the veterans affairs minister, takes Philpott’s place as Minister of Indigenous Affairs, taking on challenging issues facing Indigenous people, such as chronic water problems on reserves.
Quebec MP David Lametti, a former law professor at McGill University, becomes justice minister. He is currently the parliamentary secretary to the minister of innovation, science and economic development.
Bernadette Jordan, who represents a rural Nova Scotia riding, becomes minister of rural economic development, a new cabinet position, signaling a new focus by the Liberals on rural issues. She will be tasked with developing a national strategy for rural development as well as plans to extend broadband internet to rural areas.
First elected in 2015 in the riding of South Shore-St. Margaret’s, Jordan previously worked for eight years at a foundation that raises money for local health services in Bridgewater, N.S. As an MP, Jordan sponsored legislation to take care of abandoned and derelict vessels in coastal communities; her bill passed with unanimous approval in October 2016. She has also served as chair of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, and as parliamentary secretary to the minister of democratic institutions.
Philpott became the first-ever Indigenous Services minister when she was shuffled from the health portfolio in the summer of 2017. The new department was created to oversee responsibilities of the former Indigenous and Northern Affairs department, as well as some services previously provided by Health Canada.
Philpott took over the role as Ottawa committed billions of dollars to health services, child welfare programs, housing and other infrastructure on First Nations’ reserves and in Indigenous communities.
Philpott was responsible for pursuing the high-profile Liberal promise to eliminate “long-term drinking water advisories”—warnings about unsafe drinking water that are in place for at least a year — on reserves across Canada.
So far, Indigenous Services says 78 of these advisories have been lifted since the Trudeau government took power in 2015. The goal is to eliminate the remaining 62 advisories by March 2021.
Last June, Philpott announced changes to how the government would approve funding for Indigenous children’s orthodontic work. The move came after an uproar over a case in which the government spent more than $110,000 to fight a $6,000 bill for a teenage girl’s braces.
Philpott was also tasked with working to transfer authority for services from the federal government to Indigenous groups. In December, alongside leaders from Canada’s three national Indigenous organizations, Philpott announced coming legislation to reform child welfare for these communities. She said the bill would end decades of “discriminatory policies” and keep more Indigenous children in their home communities.
In an ongoing case, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has repeatedly ruled the lack of funding for Canada’s child welfare system for First Nations children is discriminatory.
O’Regan will now assume responsibility for these initiatives. The Newfoundland MP and former journalist moves from the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio, which he has held since August 2017 when he took over from Calgary MP Kent Hehr.
As Veterans’ Affairs Minister, O’Regan took heat from opposition Conservatives. Last year, he was blasted in the House of Commons after his department approved payments to cover PTSD treatment for a Halifax man who murdered an off-duty police officer.
He was also forced to stickhandle the fallout of an accounting error that shortchanged pension payments for disabled veterans by $165 million between 2003 and 2010.
There has also been a backlash against the Liberal’s $3.6-billion plan to provide lifelong pensions to disabled veterans. The changes give more money to severely disabled veterans but the plan has been criticized for falling short on payments to many former soldiers compared with a previous pension scheme that was abolished in 2006.