Questions surround new Indigenous Services minister but he says: ‘Pedal is to the metal’

Before the Christmas break, the Trudeau government announced plans to introduce new Indigenous child welfare legislation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said late January was when it would be introduced in the House of Commons.

Then former Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott was moved over to the Treasury Board Monday shocking even the most well connected in Ottawa.

Philpott may have been the first federal minister, to hold an Indigenous file, ever liked by chiefs and held the respect of her fellow parliamentarians.

So her departure was like a gut-punch for some who wanted to see her work continue.

What were they to make of her replacement, Seamus O’Regan?

A Newfoundlander who didn’t seem to have much experience with Indigenous issues and who was seen, to some, as a weak minister of Veteran Affairs.

More importantly, what about the child welfare bill?

O’Regan told Nation to Nation it’s full steam ahead.

“Everything will go as planned,” he said at a cabinet retreat in Sherbrooke, Que. “We hope to have that legislation introduced very shortly into the House of Commons. So we don’t see much need for any delay. In fact, more of my time right now has been making sure I assure Indigenous leadership that nothing is slowing down.

“The pedal is to the metal on all fronts.”

O’Regan vowed not to slow down any of the work Philpott was doing.

However, NDP MP Charlie Angus questioned the move by Trudeau.

“It is a screwed up department, children are being denied rights. You need a minister who is willing to go in and shake things up and is Seamus O’Regan the guy to do that? I don’t know,” said Angus.

“He’s a very, very good friend of the prime minister, a nice guy, but this is a department that needs someone who is not afraid to go in and hold the department to account to improve the lives of Indigenous children.”

As for what it means for child welfare legislation, Angus said the government was dragged into reform by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that found the federal government had always discriminated against Indigenous children. The tribunal issued four non-compliance orders to force change said Angus.

“You need someone that is going to be on top of the file and we’re (nine) months from an election and the prime minister put a very good friend of his in,” said Angus. “We are going to be holding Mr. O’Regan to account.”

O’Regan said he doesn’t come in completely blind to Indigenous issues, as he is vice-chair of the cabinet’s reconciliation committee.

“Certainly, I have some knowledge of it but not to same extent, or intricacy, as I would get from actually dealing with the leadership on it, so that’s the learning curve,” he said.