POLITICS
01/14/2019 13:28 EST | Updated 01/14/2019 14:25 EST

Bernadette Jordan, New Rural Economic Development Minister, Downplays Politics Behind New Role

She's the first woman to represent Nova Scotia in federal cabinet.

Adrian Wyld/CP
Minister of Rural Economic Development Bernadette Jordan addresses the media following a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Jan. 14, 2019.

Nova Scotia's newest and only representative in federal cabinet says the role created for her to advocate on behalf of rural Canada was borne out of necessity, not political calculus.

But Bernadette Jordan did have something of a partisan shot across the bow for rivals Monday after being named the first minister of rural economic development.

"I think it's important to note that we are committed to holding all 32 seats in Atlantic Canada," she told reporters outside Rideau Hall, when asked if the job might be a response to rumblings that some Liberal seats are in jeopardy in the region.

She said she's "extremely proud" to hold a cabinet role to work toward the goal of winning all the Atlantic seats again in 2019.

Watch: Trudeau shakes up his cabinet after Scott Brison's resignation

Jordan, who won the traditionally Conservative riding of South Shore-St. Margarets in 2015, will fill the vacancy representing Nova Scotia in cabinet after the resignation of veteran MP Scott Brison.

It was a foregone conclusion that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would name a N.S. MP to his inner circle this week, lest the province have no representation around the cabinet table with a federal election in October.

While early speculation suggested Jordan or Central Nova MP Sean Fraser could be moved to veterans affairs, Trudeau instead shuffled Jody Wilson-Raybould to that ministry, tapped Seamus O'Regan for Indigenous services, and elevated Montreal MP David Lametti to justice minister and attorney general.

Jane Philpott, meanwhile, will replace Brison as Treasury Board president.

Jordan, the only female MP from N.S., conceded the role that will need to be further defined through a mandate letter. The MP, who does not speak French but says she is learning, told reporters the "rural reality is very different than the urban reality."

Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Minister of Rural Economic Development Bernadette Jordan at a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Jan. 14, 2019.

She identified the creation of a rural economic strategy and enhancing access to high-speed internet in remote areas something the auditor general identified as a significant issue in November — as focuses.

"We want to make sure as a government that Canadians can work and live wherever they want, and that includes rural Canada," she said.

When asked if the gig was created just to give a N.S. MP a place at the table, Jordan responded "there's definitely been a need for this portfolio to exist."

She denied the role is solely about shoring up support in rural ridings which could make the difference between Liberals winning or losing in October.

Trudeau similarly shot down a reporter's suggestion that Jordan was a "stopgap" to help Liberals keep as many Atlantic Canada seats red as possible.

More from HuffPost Canada:

"She is going to be an extraordinary voice for rural Canadians, not just in Atlantic Canada but right across the country in a way that we know matters deeply to Canadians," he said.

Trudeau also attempted to downplay that the looming election shaped the decisions behind his shuffle, saying the "entire shift" was a result of Brison's exit.

"This really is an illustration of the depths of bench strength that Canadians sent to this government in 2015," he said. "And we're very excited about being able to show how we step up as a team."

In 2015, Liberals won every single seat in Atlantic Canada, en route to capturing a majority government. The so-called red wave swept out a number of incumbent Tory and NDP MPs.

Federal Conservatives have made no secret that they intend to win back seats in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island.

CP
Veterans Affairs Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Treasury Board President Jane Philpott, Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan, Justice Minister David Lametti and Minister of Rural Economic Development Bernadette Jordan attend a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Jan. 14, 2019.

Tories held their policy convention in Halifax last August. Deputy Conservative leader Lisa Raitt, who was raised in Sydney, Cape Breton but now represents the Ontario riding of Milton, delivered a keynote accusing Liberal MPs of abandoning Atlantic Canada.

The election of a Progressive Conservative government in New Brunswick last year, at least in part because of the party's opposition to the federal government's carbon pricing plan, has also been interpreted as a boon to federal Tory fortunes.

Speaking about the shuffle in Ottawa Monday, Tory finance critic Pierre Poilievre dismissed the idea that the new portfolio could help Liberals cut into Conservative support in rural communities.

Poilievre accused the the Trudeau government of "attacking the rural economy" by imposing a carbon tax on provinces and territories without a price on pollution and failing to get major pipeline projects completed.

'I don't think rural Canadians will be fooled': Tory critic

"Now just before the election, as rural Canadians are standing up and fighting back against Trudeau, he says don't worry, I've created a new government ministry to solve the problems that he created himself," Poilievre said. "I don't think rural Canadians will be fooled by that."

Jordan previously served as a parliamentary secretary to the minister of democratic institutions and chair of the Atlantic Liberal caucus. Before joining public life in 2015, she was the development officer for the Health Services Foundation in Bridgewater, N.S.

Jordan is the first woman to represent Nova Scotia in federal cabinet.

"There have only ever been nine women elected in Nova Scotia in history," she said Monday when asked why it has taken so long to break that barrier. "I think it's long overdue."