PM Harper names Greg Rickford Natural Resources minister

Rickford has past experience with First Nations, which is expected to help move Ontario's Ring of Fire development forward.

March 20, 2014   by The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The arc of Greg Rickford’s career isn’t the norm but should give him an interesting perspective on his latest professional challenge.

From nurse to lawyer to MBA to member of Parliament, and now the new federal Natural Resources minister, Rickford, 46, has spent a lot of time dealing with First Nations issues in Ontario’s rugged and remote northwest.

Since last July, he’s been immersed in helping shepherd a massive northern Ontario mining development proposal through the federal-provincial funding labyrinth – a file fraught with political one-upmanship that Rickford has mostly avoided.

So when Prime Minister Stephen Harper tapped the Kenora, Ont., MP to replace Joe Oliver, the newly promoted finance minister, even the Conservative government’s critics were ready to cut him some slack.

Those who know Rickford say he’ll bring a collegial, level-headed approach to some of the biggest economic files on the Harper government’s plate.

“He’s a practical, smart and down-to-earth guy,” said Geoff Norquay, a former senior aide to Harper who knows Rickford well.

“I will be a staunch advocate for Canada’s abundant natural resources and the thousands of jobs this sector creates for all Canadians,” Rickford said in a statement.

His record tells something of what he brings to the new job.

As Norquay put it: “I think he will be a champion at the cabinet table of better understanding of the aboriginal dimensions of resource development and the need for a much more proactive outreach by both government and business to ensure and build the successful involvement of First Nations communities in the resource economy.”

He has lived and worked as a nurse and later a lawyer in Pikangikum, Ont., among the poorest aboriginal communities in the country, so Rickford has first-hand knowledge of the desperate economic conditions and isolation of some First Nations.

Michael Gravelle, Ontario’s provincial minister of Northern Development and Mines, has dealt with Rickford on a number of issues – notably the proposed Ring of Fire mining development in northwestern Ontario – and calls him a friend despite their partisan party differences.

He welcomed Rickford’s promotion, calling it a “very important connection” to have the Ring of Fire directly under the federal natural resources minister.

The Ontario Liberals said Oliver’s promotion to finance minister also bodes well, as two top cogs in the Harper cabinet are now fully up to speed and cognizant of the importance of the huge mining development.

NDP natural resources critic Peter Julian said the Harper government has done a poor job of ensuring there is “social licence” for major resource development projects, particularly pipeline developments.

“For the government’s sake, if nothing else, the government needs to set a whole new tone,” on resource development said Julian, who said he personally likes Rickford and looks forward to working with him.

“Does he have the background? Yes. Will he establish that new tone? I certainly hope so.”

© 2014 The Canadian Press

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