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