New Brunswick MP Bernard Valcourt named Canada’s new Aboriginal Affairs Minister

Bernard Valcourt and Stephen Harper.Bernard Valcourt and Stephen HarperNew Brunswick MP Bernard Valcourt is Canada's new Aboriginal Affairs Minister.

According to reports, the Mulroney era-MP — who made a comeback to federal politics in 2011 — was sworn-in at a private ceremony at Rideau Hall on Friday morning.

Valcourt takes over for MP John Duncan who stepped-down last Friday for inappropriately writing a letter to a Canada Revenue Agency judge on behalf of a constituent.

[ Related: Aboriginal affairs minister John Duncan resigns for writing letter that was “not appropriate” ]

Valcourt, who was the associate defence minister, takes over one of the more challenging posts in cabinet. He'll have to deal with growing unrest within First Nations communities and the aftermath of the Idle No More movement.

According to a statement by the prime minister's office, Valcourt is tasked to "advance dialogue on Aboriginal issues and take achievable steps that will provide better education and economic outcomes for Aboriginal peoples across Canada."

In his first statement as the minister, Valcourt praised the government's handling of the file.

"Our government has made significant progress in improving outcomes for Aboriginal peoples across Canada. We have built new schools, invested in clean drinking water systems, built thousands of new homes, increased funding for services for the most vulnerable members of First Nations communities, and invested in hundreds of projects to link Aboriginals with job training services.

Our Government remains committed to working with those Aboriginal leaders who want to work with the Government of Canada to create jobs and growth in their communities."

Reaction to the announcement has, so far, been mixed. But Ernie Crey, who is a policy adviser for the Stó:lō Tribal Council in British Columbia, says it's a good appointment.

"[Valcourt is] a wise choice. A lawyer and a long record of service as an MP," he told Yahoo! Canada News.

"In the past, he served as parliamentary secretary to a previous minister of Indian Affairs. He's not a greenhorn. He comes from a region which saw lots of unrest over Aboriginal fishing rights.

"And as I pointed out at my Twitter page, the next Minister of Aboriginal Affairs would need to be both the intellectual and moral equal of Shawn Atleo to do justice to the post. This new guy might measure up."

[ Related: Chief Theresa Spence and Attawapiskat First Nation file ‘urgent action’ with UN committee ]

Valcourt's appointment has also necessitated a mini-cabinet shuffle of sorts.

According to the PMO statement, MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay is promoted to replace Valcourt in Defence while Veterans Affairs Minister Stephen Blaney adds francophone issues to his duties. Meanwhile, Gail Shea, Minister of National Revenue, takes on the extra role of Minister for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).

Bernard Valcourt's Bio:

Bernard Valcourt was first elected to the House of Commons in 1984 and re-elected in 1988. In 1984, he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue and to the Minister of State (Science and Technology). From 1984 to 1993, Mr. Valcourt subsequently served as Minister of State (Small Businesses and Tourism), Minister of State (Indian Affairs and Northern Development), Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Minister of Employment and Immigration and Minister of Labour.

In 1995, Mr. Valcourt was elected to the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick as the member for Edmundston, and he served until 1999. He was Leader of the Opposition party for the province from 1995 to 1997.

He was re-elected to the House of Commons in 2011 as the Member of Parliament for Madawaska-Restigouche. In May 2011, he was appointed Minister of State (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) (La Francophonie). He was appointed Associate Minister of National Defence in July 2012. In February 2013, Mr. Valcourt was appointed Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

Mr. Valcourt is a barrister and solicitor who practised law in Edmundston, New Brunswick, where he lives today..

(Photo courtesy of Canadian Press)

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