Nault gets new right-hand man

Not only did Indian Affairs and Northern Development minister Robert Nault weather the largest cabinet shuffle in recent history yesterday, his ministry has been given a secretary of state for the first time in almost two decades.
In what he called his biggest shuffle ever, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien added 10 new faces to his cabinet yesterday morning, relieved seven former ministers of their posts, and changed the portfolios of 13 others.
The massive change came a day after Industry minister Brian Tobin, long touted as a possible replacement for Chrétien, resigned suddenly from politics, citing personal reasons.
Nault, the local MP for Kenora-Rainy River, was among the few ministers who retained their current portfolios.
“I see . . . [this as] an indication of the prime minister’s complete confidence in our mandate and the direction that we are heading towards in our work with aboriginal people right across the country,” Nault said yesterday.
But there has been a slight change to Nault’s ministry with the naming of Stephen Owen as secretary of state for Western Economic Diversification, Indian Affairs, and Northern Development yesterday.
“This is a recognition that we have a very active agenda,” Nault remarked. “There hasn’t been a secretary of state in Indian and Northern Affairs since the 80s.”
Nault said Owen had a number of “unique experiences,” including connections in British Columbia, which would help in drafting the extensive First Nations’ governance and other sweeping legislation this government committed to in the last throne speech.
In addition to a secretary of state, Nault recently has been assisted in his endeavours by a cabinet committee of about 10 ministers created by the prime minister to discuss policy changes in aboriginal affairs.
“Cabinet committee was structured and set up by the prime minister to look at all policy issues in the past, present, and looking towards the future and some out-of-the-box thinking,” he explained.
Nault said the committee had been meeting regularly, and would continue to do so over the next year while the government overhauls the 125-year-old Indian Act.
Overall, Nault said he wasn’t surprised to retain his portfolio.
“I lobbied for this job to begin with, and I continue to lobby to keep the job because I feel very strongly about the need for change, the need for a people’s agenda that will work towards improving the quality of life, creating a First Nations’ economy, and the changes necessary in the Indian Act to move in that direction,” he stressed.
Nault also admitted he was shocked by Monday’s announcement that Tobin had resigned.
“My wife asked me [Monday] night, ‘Did you see this coming?’ I have to report that no I didn’t,” he said.