Romeo Saganash returns to the shadow cabinet

The New Democrats announced this morning that Romeo Saganash has been named the “Deputy Critic for Intergovernmental Aboriginal Affairs.”

The job seems established to focus on relations between the federal government and First Nations as separate governmental institutions and systems, “nation to nation” as the relationship is often described. And perhaps this raises a question about the ministerial portfolio of intergovernmental affairs itself: namely, should the intergovernmental affairs minister be newly tasked with acting as an envoy to First Nations?

At present, it is unclear—at least to me—what the intergovernmental affairs minister does, or is even supposed to do: see here, here and here for recent reference. The Prime Minister deals with the Premiers and various ministers deal with their counterparts at the provincial level. The precise necessity of an intergovernmental affairs minister to manage relations with other levels of government in that current context is debatable. (Presently in Ontario, for what it is worth, the premier is his own intergovernmental affairs minister.)

There was some questioning of Peter Penashue’s absence from last week’s meeting between the Prime Minister and First Nations given his background, but at the time I thought it would be more interesting to wonder if his portfolio might be a better reason to be involved. (Though the controversies around Mr. Penashue might not make him an ideal candidate to be thrust into the spotlight presently.) There are myriad governance and treaty issues between the federal government and First Nations. Granted, there is already an aboriginal affairs minister. But we have similarly acknowledged a diversity of issues on international affairs, dividing it up between foreign affairs, international trade and international cooperation. And so, if we are to have an intergovernmental affairs minister at all, he or she might be used to provide new focus to the “nation to nation” relationship and negotiations at a governmental level (and, for that matter, such a change might demonstrate the start of something of a new approach to the situation).