On Minister John Duncan's Resignation...
“Tseshaht is not sorry to see him go,” said Chief Councillor Hugh Braker of the Tseshaht First Nation on Vancouver Island, B.C. While the sudden resignation of John Duncan from Aboriginal Affairs was described by some as a shock, few lamented the sudden departure of the now former minister. “Regretfully, Mr. Duncan has not been effective in the past year,” said Braker. He questioned Duncan’s handling of a number of files, including Aboriginal education, Attawapiskat, Idle No More issues, Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike, changes to the Indian Act without proper consultation. “All showed his lack of leadership and lack of willingness to consult,” said Braker. Duncan remains MP of North Island-Powell River, B.C.
“(John Duncan was) a very nice man, a very honourable man, but what files have been moved in terms of education, or housing, or dealing with treaty entitlement, or reserve creation, or even water,” wondered Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde. Duncan tendered his resignation late on Friday afternoon Feb. 15 stating he had inappropriately written a letter of reference for a constituent to the Tax Court of Canada. This meant he had to go, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper accepted the resignation saying “I would like to thank Mr. Duncan for his many contributions as minister and for his service to the people of Canada.”
“What has he accomplished in his term as [Aboriginal Affairs] minister besides confusion, anger and distrust in government,” said Grand Chief Stan Louttit of the Mushkegowuk territory. On Twitter there was at first surprise and then suspicion. Janice Makokis of @bearclannation said it was no coincidence that Duncan resigned now. “It’s called politics of distraction. Let’s keep them busy from addressing real issues!” Pam Palmater @ Pam_Palmater, who came second to Shawn Atleo in the Assembly of First Nations election for national chief, said “Min Duncan was poor choice 4 INAC to begin with. He was staunch opponent of what he termed “race-based” native fishing rights. Harper knew.” Many complained that Duncan was largely missing in action on the Aboriginal Affairs file leaving Jacki McLenaghan @ jackimclenaghan to quip: “Who’s #JohnDuncan?”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper replaced Duncan with New Brunswick MP Bernard Valcourt, who was an associate minister of national defence in charge of buying equipment for the Canadian Forces. Remember the F-35s that caused the government so much trouble? The Assembly of First Nations was quick to give Valcourt the thumb’s up. “This cabinet change comes at a unique time for First Nations and Canada, a true moment of reckoning,” said Atleo. “We hope that Minister Valcourt will work with the First Nation leadership directly to advance priority areas to achieve transformative change for our peoples.”
Bellegarde said Valcourt’s experience with economic development and in Fisheries was a big plus. He was even at one time Secretary of State for Indian and Northern Affairs. Where did Valcourt get all of this experience? Well, he served in Cabinet first under Brian Mulroney beginning in 1984. That’s almost 30 years ago. Mulroney was the big cheese that gave us the BC Treaty Process. At the time, Mulroney declared that the land question in the province would be settled by the year 2000, but it’s hard to keep to a schedule on these things, especially since First Nations weren’t prepared to relinquish their lands for just cents on the dollar and something called extinguishment.
During his time under Mulroney, Valcourt was in a serious drunk driving motorcycle accident, and he paid a big price. He lost the sight in his right eye, and his cabinet position. He was returned to cabinet though seven months later and was given the Fisheries portfolio in 1991. After the cons were destroyed by the Liberals in ’93, Valcourt was off the federal scene for 18 years, until May 2011 when he was elected and returned to the Hill.
Don Martin, host of CTV’s Power Play, called Valcourt “an interesting choice.” Valcourt is “going to go to the frontbench and be given the big headache of this very contentious portfolio.”
Twitter has been a very quiet place on the Valcourt appointment, but not silent. Christine Cameron @life_lite said that when a chief asked Valcourt recently about Bill C-45, the MP is reported to have replied, “I don’t know & I don’t care.”
EmperorStephenHarper @RobertJensen encapsulated the situation by Tweeting “#Duncan resigned from cabinet for breaking the rules. #Valcourt resigned from cabinet for drunk driving. Harper picks another winner.” Valcourt was sworn into Cabinet in a private ceremony, prompting I.Giraud @BlueShoes55 to Tweet “Why does it always have to be ‘secret’ w these people?!”