Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Aboriginal affairs minister finishes week by resigning

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OTTAWA -- A rough week for the governing Conservatives got rougher late Friday with the surprise resignation of Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan.

Duncan announced he was stepping down after improperly advocating to a tax court on behalf of a constituent.

Cabinet members were recently asked to review their correspondence following revelations by The Canadian Press that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty had improperly promoted a business in his riding in its licence application to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

The federal ethics commissioner reiterated such interventions by public office holders are forbidden.

Duncan said in a statement a subsequent search by his office turned up his own improper advocacy.

"In June of 2011 I wrote a character reference letter to the Tax Court of Canada on behalf of an individual to whom my constituency staff was providing case work assistance on a Canada Revenue Agency matter," Duncan said in the statement.

"While the letter was written with honourable intentions, I realize that it was not appropriate for me, as a minister of the Crown, to write to the Tax Court."

Duncan said he offered his resignation to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and it was accepted.

"I take full responsibility for my actions and the consequences they have brought," said Duncan.

"I would like to thank Mr. Duncan for his many contributions as minister and for his service to the people of Canada," Harper said in a release.

Duncan will continue to represent Vancouver Island North but his cabinet duties will be taken up temporarily by Heritage Minister James Moore.

In a statement addressed to Harper, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said, "The next minister must be open to exploring functions outside of the Indian Act structure that promotes resource revenue and equity development within an inherent and treaty-rights-based process."

Murray Clearsky, the grand chief of the Southern Chiefs Organization in Manitoba, wished Duncan well. "There's no animosity towards him. He's not calling the shots, the prime minister is," Clearsky said in a prepared statement.

Deborah Young, the University of Manitoba's executive lead for indigenous achievement, said, "Whoever becomes the new minister has a huge mandate and responsibility and will need to listen and respond to both First Nations, Métis, Inuit leadership, as well as to community needs and aspirations."

-- The Canadian Press, with staff files

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2013 A5

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