This past week the Prime Minister announced a cabinet shuffle. Although media often portray cabinet shuffles as a type of crisis level event, there many reasons why a shuffle occurs and in this case I believe the Liberals are refocusing in several key areas. Most importantly, is the decision to divide the current Ministry of Indigenous and Northern Affairs into two new and separate departments.
One of the new departments will be Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, headed up by Minister Carolyn Bennett and the other will be the Department of Indigenous Services with former Health Minister Jane Philpott in charge.
What will these two new departments do? In essence, one will focus entirely on the relationship between Government and Aboriginal Leadership, while the other will focus on delivery of services to First Nations communities.
The Liberal Government has cited that the former Ministry had become too large, delivered far too many services with an equally large mandate to be truly effective. As a result the Liberals believe that having two Ministries with different mandates will be a more effective solution.
I believe few would suggest that the status quo was not in need of improvement. However there are also concerns with this particular decision.
One aspect of governance that I have come across that applies at all levels, is that joint accountability can often lead to no accountability. In this case there will be a strong requirement for these two Ministries to work in partnership together while avoiding overlaps and missing gaps, all at the same time.
Another concern is creating another department with yet another Minister adds even more bureaucracy to a system that is already considered by many to be administratively overburdened.
The time line for First Nation communities needing decisions or approvals from Ottawa on important projects, delays and hurdles can be significant. Adding another department and Minister to the fold is unlikely to help the process.
What would have been an alternative?
The Liberal Government since being elected, has had one Minister for the Ministry of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. Perhaps a shuffle with a new and different Minister may have been a prudent course of action before engaging in the costly split and creation of an entirely new department.
As an example of this, it is not a secret that the former Conservative Government had some struggles with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Fortunately a shuffle and the introduction of a new face with extensive experience, Minister Erin O’Toole, made a significant positive change of direction in getting the Department back on track. Ironically Prime Minister Trudeau also just shuffled a new Minister of Veteran Affairs into this portfolio for similar reasons as Seamus O’Regan takes over from Kent Hehr.
Ultimately how a Minister runs a department from my experience can make a significant difference.
My question this week: Do you support the splitting of the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs into two different Ministries or should there have first been a change in Minister?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.