For the first time in Canadian history, there is a Minister in the Federal Cabinet who is solely responsible for Northern Affairs. His name is Dan Vandal.
Dan Vandal was chosen as the Minister of Northern Affairs in the most recent cabinet announcement. Although the position of Minister of Northern Affairs has existed since 1953, this is the first time that the role is a stand alone ministry.
This is somewhat surprising as during the election none of the political parties prioritized northern issues. In fact, only one federal leader even went North during the election, and that was Prime Minister Trudeau to a riding that he ended up losing, Nunavut.
The position of Minister of Northern Affairs has had some turnover since Prime Minister Trudeau was first elected in 2015. First Carolyn Bennett was Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, then in 2017 she became the Minister of Crown-Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, in 2018 Dominic LeBlanc became the Minister of Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs. Minister LeBlanc stepped away from his position due to illness in early 2019 and Northern Affairs was transferred back to Minister Bennett. The position now falls to Dan Vandal, the new Minister of Northern Affairs.
Minister Vandal is the only Indigenous cabinet minister in the current government.
He is a Metis who is representing the riding of Saint Boniface- Saint Vital in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Vandal has been a Member of Parliament since 2015 and was most recently the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous Services.
In the past Minister Vandal has sat on three committees: Official Languages, Canadian Heritage, and Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
Although there are two northern Members of Parliament who are liberal (Yukon, Larry Bagnell and NWT, Michael McLeod), neither of them were selected to be Minister of Northern Affairs, or even to participate in the cabinet.
In the recently released Mandate Letter from the Prime Minister to Minister Vandal several priorities were laid out. The letter specifically points the Minister providing, “more economic opportunity and a higher quality of life in the North of Canada, while also acting in support of our sovereignty and national interest.”
Some of the specific priorities mentioned in the Mandate Letter include:
Increasing the Northern Residents Deduction for travel costs;
Fully implementing the Inuit land claims agreements;
Implementing the Arctic and Northern Policy Framework;
Supporting territorial planning for hydroelectricity projects;
Monitoring and identifying any additional assistance the Polar Continental Shelf Program; and,
Finalizing the creation of the Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program to clean up the largest and most high-risk sites
Although the mandate letter does mention implementing land claims, the focus remains on the Inuit, with no mention of any other Northern land claims are being negotiated or implemented, even though there are plenty of them across the territories. In fact, Nunavut is the only one of the three territories mentioned by name.
Another major priority of the Mandate Letter is the implementation of the Arctic and Northern Policy Framework. This framework has been in the works since 2016, but was released one day before the federal election, with very little attention. The framework is supposed to help guide northern policy until 2030. This policy did not come with any funding or an implementation plan. As Premier Silver from the Yukon said to the Yukon News in regards to the new Framework, “All of the northern premiers agree that a strong Canada includes a vibrant and a well resourced Arctic and northern region.” Minister Vandal will need to spend time in the coming months and years implementing this new policy and working hard to ensure this.