APTN National News
OTTAWA--Indigenous leaders have reason to suspect a hidden “agenda” behind the Stephen Harper government’s decision to change the name of Indian Affairs and the title of the minister responsible for the department, NDP leader Jack Layton said.
Layton, whose party formed the Official Opposition, unveiled his shadow cabinet Thursday during a news conference in Ottawa.
Layton said his party would be pushing Aboriginal issues on a number of fronts including education, water and housing.
The NDP leader also said that Indigenous leaders had reason to be suspicious of the Conservative’s decision to substitute the word “Indian” with “Aboriginal” in the department’s name and the minister’s title.
The department will eventually be rechristened Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, the Prime Minister’s Office has said. It remains unclear how much the name change will cost. John Duncan, the previous Indian Affairs minister, was reappointed to the same portfolio last week as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
“We hear that there are different reactions to the name change within the broad community of First Nation, Inuit and Metis people,” said Layton. “It is mostly a suspicion that this could be hiding an agenda of some sort. We have from time to time, had suspicions that Mr. Harper is hiding one sort of agenda or other.”
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan’s office said there was no “hidden agenda” behind the name change.
“The change in title better reflects the scope of responsibilities with respect to First Nations, Inuit and Metis. The title is more up to date and inclusive and is consistent with our government’s focus on moving forward in our relationship with Aboriginal peoples,” said Duncan’s spokeswoman Michell Yao in an emailed statement. “There is no hidden agenda. Period, full stop.”
Layton said his party is focused on forcing changes at the department, no matter what it’s called.
“I can understand people’s concerns about (the name change),” said Layton. “It is also true that there is a broad range of issues that must be addressed by that department. The broad range of questions and challenges faced by urban Aboriginals and those living in communities and First Nations and those in the North…symbols like name changes don’t cut it.”
Layton named Alberta MP Linda Duncan as Aboriginal Affairs critic. Former Aboriginal Affairs critic Jean Crowder will watch the Human Resources and Skills Development file.
Cree MP Romeo Saganash was given the job as Natural Resources critic.
Layton said Saganash’s past as a Cree leader involved in resource revenue negotiations with Quebec and his experience on the international stage promoting Aboriginal rights were key to his appointment to the role.
“The interests of Aboriginals are very important when considering whether to exploit natural resources,” said Layton.