Inuit welcome Aglukkaq as federal health minister
Last Updated: Friday, October 31, 2008 | 11:42 AM ET
Inuit leaders applauded Leona Aglukkaq's appointment to the federal cabinet Thursday, while expressing their expectation that the new health minister will improve health care in Canada's North.
In a move that many described as surprising and historic, Aglukkaq, a former Nunavut health and finance minister, became the first Inuk to become a senior federal cabinet minister.
"It's good to hear that Inuit get posted to these kind of things," Paul Kaludjak, president of the Inuit land-claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., told CBC News on Thursday.
"She's been a health minister before and, you know, those kinds of things will be a plus. And to be able to approach somebody with our own language will be great."
Aglukkaq's appointment shows that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government is committed to Nunavut, Kaludjak said, adding that he has no doubt Aglukkaq will help improve health care in the territory.
Aglukkaq's cabinet appointment follows her victory in the Oct. 14 federal election, in which she seized a long-time Liberal stronghold riding for the Conservatives.
While many in Nunavut expected the first-time MP to receive a junior cabinet post, they did not expect Harper to assign Aglukkaq the high-profile health portfolio.
'First-hand experience' with northern issues
Having an Inuk and former territorial minister in cabinet can only be positive, said Mary Simon of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national Inuit organization.
"When you meet ministers that have just been appointed, many times those individuals don't have first-hand experience with Inuit or Arctic issues," Simon said.
"Leona doesn't need to be educated about the issues that we are facing in the health sector, or in any of the sectors up North."
A former civil servant from Thom Bay and Gjoa Haven in Nunavut, Aglukkaq was elected to the territory's legislative assembly in 2004 and was initially named finance minister and house leader.
She later moved to Health and Social Services, where she stayed until resigning on Sept. 10 to run for the federal Tories.
Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik said he hopes Aglukkaq will benefit the territory, not just in health care.
"When you have a voice at the table, it assists in providing better services to all Nunavummiut," or Nunavut residents, Okalik said.
Aglukkaq also becomes the most senior cabinet minister from Canada's North since the late Erik Nielsen of the Yukon was deputy prime minister in Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative government in the 1980s.