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Harper announces minor cabinet shuffle

Mark Dunn. (Andre Forget/QMI Agency)

By Mark Dunn, Senior National Reporter

Conservative MP Bernard Valcourt  has been named new Aboriginal Affairs minister Conservative. Conservative MP Bernard Valcourt is all smiles as he is meet by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the first National Caucus at Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 1, 2011. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY)

Conservative MP Bernard Valcourt has been named new Aboriginal Affairs minister Conservative. Conservative MP Bernard Valcourt is all smiles as he is meet by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the first National Caucus at Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 1, 2011. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY)

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper has enlisted a former Brian Mulroney-era minister to tackle the sensitive subject of aboriginal grievances.

In a mini cabinet shuffle Friday, Bernard Valcourt was elevated to the aboriginal affairs portfolio after John Duncan resigned last week.

Valcourt's selection follows Harper's commitment in January to play a more active role in addressing treaty rights, reserve conditions and resource revenue sharing — issues that have led to protests and blockades and the saga of a northern Ontario chief staging a soup diet sit-in on an island near Parliament Hill.

The New Brunswick MP held several portfolios on Mulroney's front bench. He was forced to resign one of them after a drunk-driving motorcycle crash in 1989.

While Valcourt said he was humbled by the appointment, NDP aboriginal affairs critic Jean Crowder said if Harper was serious about First Nations concerns he would have picked "a more senior minister."

The militant Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said it fears Valcourt will be a puppet "in a tightly controlled authoritarian Harper regime," but the group is willing to give him a chance.

Duncan quit because of a character reference letter he wrote to the Tax Court on behalf of a constituent.

Valcourt had been responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and associate minister of national defence.

Harper handed the ACOA file to Revenue Minister Gail Shea and promoted British Columbia MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay to associate defence minister.

Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney was tagged to oversee La Francophonie.

Mark.Dunn@sunmedia.ca

Twitter:MarkDunnSun

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