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John Duncan resigns: Who will Harper choose as the new Aboriginal Affairs Minister?

The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, John Duncan, has just resigned because of an inappropriate letter he wrote to the Tax Court on behalf of a constituent.

His quitting will give Prime Minister Harper the chance to appoint a new minister for a very complex and delicate portfolio.

Harper had a strong minister in that role when Jim Prentice had the job. Will he choose someone with political clout, policy know-how and good diplomatic and communication skills this time?

Some of the Conservatives' friends on the Right have already floated a name: Jason Kenney. They say Harper should ask Kenney to "clean up" Aboriginal Affairs because of the way he turned Immigration, which is usually a fairly junior post, into a major one.

It will be the kiss of death for Kenney to get an endorsement from this quarter; but, given the available options, he may be just the right person for the job.

Kenney has been focused, strategic and frequently almost ruthless in his current job. Nobody could deny that, for the most part, he seems to have mastered his files. He is never at a loss for words -- in the House, on the stump, or in front of the media.

Kenney is one of the few ministers in the current Government who is not afraid to expose himself to the media in the Parliamentary Press Gallery-controlled National Press Theatre, across the street from the Parliament Buildings.

For the most part (with some rather disturbing exceptions) Kenney has not felt the need for some theatrical backdrop, far from the Ottawa home of the national media, to announce new policy.

He is confident, glib and obviously has the respect of the Prime Minister.

Of course, Kenney has been mercilessly demagogic on the matters of Roma refugees and refugee health care -- but that's par for the course for this government and this Prime Minister, who seems to encourage that sort of rough stuff.

The Roma and refugees who need health care hardly constitute major political constituencies in Canada -- and it is easy and relatively risk-free to make them into political scapegoats.

Kenny would know enough not try the same tactics on Aboriginal Canadians.

And he might -- just might -- be able to pull a Nixon-goes-China and find a way to craft genuinely effective solutions on issues such as service funding, education and resource revenue sharing.

The current Immigration Minister has done his time on the ethnic brunch circuit. He can proudly claim that he helped to successfully re-brand a Conservative Party that was once seen as "WASP white bread" only.

Now, maybe the Prime Minister might want to harness his skills and energy to the task of seeking justice for Canada's First Nations.

One can always hope...

Other folks Harper might turn to include: former diplomat and supposed rising star Chris Alexander; current Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore (who is doing the job an an interim basis, and is, like Duncan, a British Columbian); respected veteran MP (and junior minister) Diane Ablonczy; medical doctor Kellie Leitch, who is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources; or Ms Fix-It herself, the current Public Works Minister, Rona Ambrose.

We'll see.

This opportunity gives the Prime Minister the chance to send a signal.

Will he indicate that he believes Aboriginal Affairs is a matter of significant national importance, which, like Immigration, merits a heavy-hitting minister?

Or, as in the recent past, will Harper show that he considers the fate of Canada's First Peoples it to be a marginal, "niche" area -- something that can be handled (or fumbled) by just about anyone to whom he might owe a political favour or two?

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