Playing the Jane Philpott card: Trudeau shuffles the deck -

Playing the Jane Philpott card: Trudeau shuffles the deck

Justin Trudeau looks to one of his most capable cabinet ministers to deliver on Indigenous affairs, one of the government’s thorniest files

Health Minister Jane Philpott to testifies about the federal government's controversial bill on assisted dyingl before the entire Senate in Ottawa, Wednesday, June 1, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Health Minister Jane Philpott to testifies about the federal government’s controversial bill on assisted dyingl before the entire Senate in Ottawa, Wednesday, June 1, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Three guiding principles of the evolving Justin Trudeau style of cabinet shuffling:

• This Prime Minister sees no point in waiting forever before delivering the sort of complete cabinet overhaul that always ends up looking like an apology for the previous ministry. Trudeau is turning into a fan of mid-sized shuffles that fix the worst problems and target new opportunities, all while moving a fairly small number of bodies.

• When you’re really good in this government, you get moved. This is the second smallish shuffle in a year; the first was designed to maximize the capabilities of Chrystia Freeland, who was already the most important trade minister since John Crosbie and would now be lead minister in a Trump-responsive foreign-policy apparatus. Monday’s shuffle mainly rewards Jane Philpott, who has been a superb health minister, with new headaches in a newly created portfolio as Minister of Indigenous Services.

• Nobody has tenure and nobody is barred. Cabinet sometimes looks, to backbenchers, like an exclusive club they have no hope of entering. And too often it has been taken by incumbents as a membership they can never screw up. This boss demotes: Kent Hehr takes a clear step down, although I presume the PMO will heartily dismiss the notion. And Trudeau keeps promoting near-unknowns to key roles. I have never known Ginette Petitpas Taylor to do more than enthusiastically recite her briefing notes, and now she’s Canada’s minister of health, in the middle of an opioid crisis. Maybe it’s a genius move! We’ll soon find out.

Let’s focus on Philpott. Thirteen months, ago I wrote about the breadth of her engagement and her ability to deliver results. Not all of her successes were high-profile: early on, for instance, she chaired a temporary cabinet committee in charge of getting 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada. Later she got the government’s assisted-dying legislation through the Commons and Senate. She has rapidly overhauled the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, instituting changes the country’s medical researchers have mostly applauded.

Big challenges still lay ahead, I wrote last year, including negotiations with the provinces over health funding. In December those talks looked like a fiasco as the provinces walked out rather than accept Philpott’s offer of (frankly not very much) targeted money for mental-health programs. But then the provinces started signing one-off bilateral deals with Philpott to take what she’d offered. Two months ago the last holdout, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, said he’d cheerfully wait “forever” before signing with Philpott; forever turned out to mean seven more weeks.

On to her new job. The division of Indigenous Affairs into two departments with two ministers leaves a lot to digest, and a lot will depend on how it’s carried out. It suggests the Prime Minister is not content with progress on the file to date, and has chosen to (almost literally) double down rather than giving up. It’s based on recommendations from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, whose 4,000-page report was published during Jean Chrétien’s first mandate. That report has gathered dust for 20 years, but the division Trudeau delivered today was indeed one of its recommendations.

Nor is it clear that Philpott’s is the hardest task of the two. Carolyn Bennett leads a new department of Crown-Indigenous Relations designed to “guide the Government’s forward-looking and transformative work to create a new relationship with Indigenous Peoples… and to develop a framework to advance a recognition of rights approach that will last well beyond this government.” What’s the upper limit on something like that? Guaranteed Indigenous representation on the Supreme Court, or in Parliament? Federal transfers to self-governing Indigenous communities on the model of transfers to provinces? I don’t know, I’m spit-balling, but Bennett sure doesn’t seem to have a mandate to think small.

Philpott’s concerns are more day-to-day. She has been thinking about them for a long time. She delivered an update on her thinking in her keynote address to last week’s annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association in Quebec City.

“Of all the challenges that confront me as federal health minister, the most daunting is the need to address deplorable gaps in health outcomes faced by First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada,” she said. “By a host of measures,” it is easy to see Indigenous communities “have suffered from both negligence and systemic discrimination when it comes to healthcare.”

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal says that discrimination continues under the Trudeau government, and has issued three compliance orders concerning child and family services on reserves. Philpott’s response was to take the tribunal to court. A matter of “clarity,” she said.

There is no thornier mess of issues facing the Trudeau government than its relations with Indigenous populations. Faced with mixed results at best, the Prime Minister has decided to up his game. Philpott is just about his most formidable player. To say the least, success isn’t guaranteed, but her new assignment is the biggest news of a surprisingly big shuffle.


Playing the Jane Philpott card: Trudeau shuffles the deck

  1. Sometimes, in order to make a good PM, you have to have the team and the talent to get you there, and keep you there as well. It speaks of a PMs character and ability, to get the best in the business, remember, ” he is just not ready”.

    • Just an annual demonstration to us, that although JT promised changed, that he like the previous government, believes that power solely rests with the PM.

      The demotion of an Albertan MP will certainly not help Alberta/Ottawa relations.

  2. Philpot is most impressive in character and in ability. she is someone who intends to make a difference.She will need all of her considerable resources in this very important new position.

    Good luck to her.It is important to the country that she succeed.

  3. Philpot is the |Minister of Health who is basically in contempt of a Supreme Court ruling which has ruled that the Government of Canada is discriminating against indigenous youth, underfunding their social services. I suppose Trudeau and Philpot’s goal now is to continue disregarding Supreme Court decision and underfund all indigenous services.

    Justin talks a big charter game. He and his buddies in the mainstream media bashed Harper for cutting health care for some refugees, but we hear crickets about Trudeau’s underfunding of indigenous youth, enforced by Philpot, and ignoring a human rights decision of the SCOC.

    • Ah yes. Good idea. Use this opportunity to get in the daily attack on MSM & Trudeau while reminding us poor Harper was a victim. I thought victimhood was for losers? Crickets from MSM on underfunding according apparently. And yet, I have read numerous articles including this one criticising JT for underfunding and lack of progress on the Indigenous file. And how did I find out about underfunding of indigenous youth and human rights decisions of the SCOC? I got it from the MSM. For a bunch of Liberal lovers, the MSM is sure doing a bad job of keeping these things hidden. Finally, since when were Harper supporters also fans of SCOC decisions? Seems to me Harper enjoyed attacking the SCOC as being too interventionist. Perhaps this time is different?

      • Here is how the CBC described Trudeau’s and Philpot’s continual neglect of a Supreme Court decisioin yesterday:

        “Bureaucrats have been accused of dragging their heels on the child and family services file despite three non-compliance orders from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Activists say the government has been shortchanging Indigenous children through discriminatory spending practices.”

        The CBC (and the mainstream media in general) is so inside Trudeau’s tent, they can’t even remotely state the facts about Trudeau and Philpot.

        • Thanks. I went to the report. It is not about Supreme Court decisions, it is not a critique of the government on this file. It is reporting on the the issue of splitting the Ministry. The CBC has found people who are supportive and people who are critical. The whole article is about the bureaucracy. This is only about the umpteenth article I have read criticizing the bureaucracy. And yet, you see this as whitewashing the Liberals. Sorry man, I man not seeing it. There was an article in the Post today, questioning why splitting a useless (my words) department in two would create two good departments. If this is supposed to be making the Liberals look good it is not working on me. I read these articles and I see a government flailing around.

  4. Paul Wells proves himself yet again, what a good little liberal he is, covering for Trudeau. Recall the picture of him horsing around with Trudeau, with a gleeming smile at what heaven it is to be in such a liberal environment.

    Trudeau OBVIOUSLY, demoted Philpott for her utter incompetences at the Health ministry. Trudeau OBVIOUSLY fired Judy Foote, for her epic bungling, and hundreds of millions wasted, on the Phoenix pay system. Hehr was OBVIOUSLY demoted for his bungling on the veterans file.

    Oh, but recall how the likes of Wells BLASTED Harper when he demoted Steven Fletcher, the quad man in the wheelchair. He was called a wicked, evil PM for demoting a handicapped man. For Wells, NO such outrage by him or any other media for Trudeau doing exactly the same thing.

    At least Fletcher was an honorable man, while Hehr found himself in his wheelchair due to criminality. Him being rewarded by Trudeau originally, putting him in cabinet due to his cowardice in his youth, was appalling judgement on Trudeau’s part, yet the media cares not to demonize him over demoting a handicapped man. Typical.

    Philpott bungled the drug injection file, fast tracking the implementation, due to media pressure, of the opening of these appalling sites, legitimizing drug addicts and assisting them in slowly killing themselves, rather than using that money to open desperately needed TREATMENT beds, that are desperately needed in cities across the land. Her shut down, using her majority, at committee of any expert of relevance, as told by Rachel Harder, conservative MP in the house after the committee, was appalling.

    Using her majority, Philpott shut down the demand by Harder and other con MP’s on that committee, to call expert witnesses such as city mayors, councillors, police chiefs or police board members, school boards, heads of health departments in the cities, the public, businesses improvement entities etc. Then, during debates in the House, she made a fool of herself in TRYING to justify why she shut down that Health committee after only ONE DAY of study, to fast track the insite shooting galleries. She made a mockery of that file, and is a main reason why, she was DEMOTED, and was an epic disaster at Health. Try again Wells. You, and all media’s lies on her relevance is a sick joke.