Jim Prentice becomes new DIAND minister
New Tory minister already familiar with aboriginal and northern issues
As expected, Jim Prentice, the Conservative MP for Calgary North, is now the minister in charge of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
Prentice, 49, was sworn in to his new job on Feb. 6, along with the rest of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s new cabinet. He replaces Andy Scott, the Liberal MP for Fredricton.
A lawyer, Prentice is considered to be an expert on property rights and aboriginal land claims, having served for 10 years as a law commissioner on the Indian Land Claims Commission of Canada.
In 2003, he ran for the leadership of the old Progressive Conservative party, finishing second to Peter Mackay. Prentice also ran for the leadership of the new Conservative party in 2004, but withdrew for financial reasons, and Stephen Harper became party leader.
Prentice is considered to be a fiscal conservative, but a moderate on social issues. Last year, he was one of only four Conservative MPs to vote in favour of same-sex marriage.
After the 2004 election, Prentice served as the Conservative party’s critic for aboriginal and northern affairs. During that time he appears to have won the respect of national aboriginal organizations such as the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.
An ITK press release issued this week says the organization “reacted favourably” to Harper’s new Conservative cabinet, including the appointment of Jim Prentice.
“We’re not starting from zero in our relations with him,” ITK president Jose Kusugak said in the press release.
Other new ministers in portfolios affecting Nunavut include:
* Loyola Hearne, minister of Fisheries and Oceans: The veteran MP from Newfoundland is no stranger to Nunavut, having visited here in 1984, when he was a minister of education in the government of Newfoundland. As a member of the Commons fisheries committee, Hearne asked many critical questions last year about the Baffin Fisheries Coalition’s handling of Nunavut’s turbot quota.
* Gordon O’Connor, defence minister: O’Connor is no stranger to Nunavut either, having visited last summer as part of a pan-northern tour. He’s the author of the Conservative platform commitments that would see a deep-sea military-civilian port built in Iqaluit.
* Bev Oda, heritage minister: Oda, a former executive with CTV, is considered to be well-informed on arts funding issues. Her department is responsible for a long list of hand-out programs that provide money for the arts and for cultural activities, including aboriginal languages.
* Jim Flaherty, finance minister: A fiscal conservative from Whitby, Ont., Flaherty served in the cabinet of Mike Harris’s Ontario government. When cash-strapped GN officials take their begging bowls to Ottawa, he’s the man they’ll have to talk to now.