O’Re­gan ap­pointed to cabi­net

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - FRONT PAGE - BY GLEN WHIFFEN

On Aug. 25 Sea­mus O’Re­gan de­scribed Judy Foote’s de­par­ture from the fed­eral cabi­net as “we’re los­ing our skipper.”

A few days later he stepped for­ward and took the cap­tain’s wheel as New­found­land and Labrador’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the fed­eral cabi­net.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau ap­pointed O’Re­gan as min­is­ter of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs and As­so­ciate Min­is­ter of Na­tional De­fence.

O’Re­gan told re­porters af­ter the swear­ing-in at Rideau Hall that he was thank­ful for the con­fi­dence shown in him by Trudeau, and by his con­stituents.

Trudeau’s cabi­net shuf­fle was prompted by Foote’s res­ig­na­tion, which she an­nounced in St. John’s ear­lier this month.

In Ottawa, the prime min­is­ter thanked Foote for her years of hard work in the ser­vice of Cana­di­ans. And in mov­ing O’Re­gan, 46 — a per­sonal friend — from the back­benches into cabi­net, the prime min­is­ter gains a per­son most on so­cial me­dia were calling a great fit for Vet­er­ans Af­fairs.

Trudeau tweeted a video of a speech O’Re­gan made last sum­mer dur­ing a cer­e­mony at The Rooms mark­ing the 100th an­niver­sary of the New­found­land Reg­i­ment’s bat­tle at Beau­mont Hamel in France. In the video, O’Re­gan said of the New­found­land sol­diers, “They are gi­ants. They are heroes.”

He had co-chaired the cam­paign to com­mem­o­rate the an­niver­sary with Gen. Rick Hil­lier.

O’Re­gan be­came MP for St. John’s South-mount Pearl upon win­ning the riding in the Oc­to­ber 2015 fed­eral elec­tion. Prior to en­ter­ing pol­i­tics, he was best known as co-host of CTV’S “Canada AM.”

At the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment level, O’Re­gan was in the past ex­ec­u­tive assistant to the min­is­ter of jus­tice and se­nior pol­icy ad­viser to the pre­mier.

Con­grat­u­la­tions were quick to come through so­cial me­dia fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment, in­clud­ing from Foote and Pre­mier Dwight Ball.

O’Re­gan will have an im­por­tant task to work for the rights of vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies.

The prime min­is­ter’s let­ter to that of­fice states that vet­er­ans should not have to fight their gov­ern­ment for the com­pen­sa­tion and ser­vices they de­serve: “You will en­sure that we hon­our the ser­vice of our vet­er­ans and pro­vide new ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties, make it eas­ier for vet­er­ans to ac­cess ser­vices — in­clud­ing men­tal-health ser­vices — and do more to sup­port the fam­i­lies of Canada’s vet­er­ans.”

Also in Trudeau’s mid-man­date shakeup, cabi­net stal­wart Jane Philpott was placed at the heart of a re­tooled In­dige­nous Af­fairs de­part­ment.

Philpott is tak­ing on a new In­dige­nous Ser­vices port­fo­lio to work along­side Carolyn Ben­nett, whose new ti­tle — min­is­ter of Crown-in­dige­nous re­la­tions and north­ern af­fairs — sig­nals a sharper fo­cus on rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ples.

Ginette Petit­pas Tay­lor be­comes the new Health min­is­ter, while Carla Qual­trough be­comes min­is­ter of Pub­lic Works and Pro­cure­ment, re­plac­ing Foote. It’s widely seen as one of the toughest port­fo­lios in cabi­net, re­spon­si­ble for han­dling the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s trou­bled Phoenix pay sys­tem as well as han­dling de­fence pro­cure­ment.

O’Re­gan and Ben­nett were seen ar­riv­ing at Rideau Hall for the swear­ing-in cer­e­mony. Asked his feel­ings about be­ing named to cabi­net, O’Re­gan would only say, “For once, I’m speech­less.”

Foote, who had been on leave from her cabi­net port­fo­lio, said last week she was re­sign­ing her House of Com­mons seat for fam­ily health rea­sons. O’Re­gan’s pro­mo­tion en­sures a con­tin­ued seat at the cabi­net ta­ble for New­found­land and Labrador.

The Lib­er­als were elected two years ago on a prom­ise to ad­dress many of the com­plaints vet­er­ans had raised about their treat­ment un­der the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment.

The big­gest prom­ise was to rein­tro­duce life­long dis­abil­ity pen­sions, which had been elim­i­nated in favour of a lump-sum pay­ment and a new sys­tem of ben­e­fits for in­jured ex-sol­diers in 2006.

But the Lib­er­als have since waf­fled on that prom­ise.

In terms of cabi­net new­com­ers, O’Re­gan was a mar­quee choice. He was first elected in 2015 and is a close per­sonal friend of the prime min­is­ter.

O’Re­gan and his part­ner were among the friends who ac­com­pa­nied Trudeau on a con­tro­ver­sial fam­ily va­ca­tion last Christ­mas to a pri­vate is­land in the Ba­hamas owned by the Aga Khan, a bil­lion­aire phi­lan­thropist and spir­i­tual leader of the world’s Is­maili Mus­lims.

The pre­vi­ous Christ­mas, O’Re­gan spent the hol­i­days in a “well­ness cen­tre” where he re­ceived treat­ment for al­co­holism. He has openly dis­cussed his strug­gles with al­co­holism and men­tal ill­ness.

FILE PHOTO

Sea­mus O’Re­gan, who grew up in Labrador, is now min­is­ter of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs and as­so­ciate min­is­ter of Na­tional De­fence.

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