When Aboriginal drummers performed at Monday’s swearing-in ceremony of Premier Kathleen Wynne and her cabinet, Willowdale MPP David Zimmer, Ontario’s new Aboriginal affairs minister, admits he had tears in his eyes.
“One of the most moving things was at the end, for the first time (at a swearing-in ceremony at the legislature), they had, it was Aboriginal women drummers and singers (who) played and sang the most moving songs,” he told The Mirror.
“It’s a beautiful thing to listen to. It was haunting.”
The performance signalled the importance Wynne’s government will dedicate to issues related to the Aboriginal community, Zimmer said,
Concerns of the community have taken on prominence in recent weeks through the Idle No More movement.
Zimmer is one of three North York MPPs that Wynne, MPP for Don Valley West, elevated to cabinet positions.
Don Valley East MPP Michael Coteau is citizenship and immigrations minister and York West MPP Mario Sergio is minister responsible for seniors.
Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) president Gary Lipinski, who attended Monday’s ceremony, applauded the appointment of Zimmer, who served for many years as parliamentary assistant to the minister of Aboriginal affairs.
“Among our key priorities are insuring Métis children and youth have every opportunity available to be the best they can be. Ensuring our youth have the necessary tools to succeed is a win-win for both our governments and something we are deeply committed to,” he said in a statement.
Zimmer, an early supporter of Wynne’s leadership bid, said he was thrilled to get a call from the premier Sunday offering him the cabinet post, his first since being elected in 2003.
“I was just delighted. It’s a ministry I’m very interested in so I was delighted and, frankly, a little surprised to be invited,” he said, adding Wynne has made it clear her government will focus on social justice issues and economic prudence.
“To have that (position) on my shoulders is an honour. It’s a responsibility. If I can deliver, I will have a happy premier, I will have a happy caucus, I will have a happy Aboriginal community and I will be happy.”
Coteau, a former school trustee, is also excited about his new job, saying a top priority will be organizing a meeting with immigrants to learn about their experiences coming to Ontario and the issues they face, including barriers to employment.
“I’m humbled by it (my appointment). To be able to work with the new premier and a fantastic group of people is an incredible honour and I look forward to really delivering on the portfolio,” he said.
“It’s a listening and learning exercise. I’m reaching out to stakeholders to find where they are.”
Coteau is hoping this session of the legislature will be less fractious than the last and all parties will work for the benefit of voters, who he believes don’t want an election.
Similar to Zimmer, who was parliamentary assistant to the minister of Aboriginal affairs before taking over the helm, Sergio has been parliamentary assistant to the minister responsible for seniors before taking over the reins.
“I’m excited to get to work on the file,” he said.
“Seniors want to live a more independent life, a happier life. I care so much for them.”
Sergio praised the province’s new premier.
“She has a wonderful social/political conscience that I think is going to come out. Her heart is in the right place. She has a big challenge, of course, but she has shown willingness to make this government work. I’m very confident she will be a great premier,” he said.
– with files from Fannie Sunshine