Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote announced Thursday she is stepping down from her ministry. (ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)
OTTAWA— Judy Foote, a strong female voice in Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, stepped down as public works minister Thursday and will leave politics altogether this fall as her family faces cancer in their midst.
Foote revealed publicly that she is now cancer-free but as a carrier of BRCA-2, the breast cancer gene, her children have been “impacted”—inherited the gene that makes one susceptible to other cancers as well.
“I continue to be as far as I know cancer-free,” Foote said at an emotional news conference in St. John’s, but she said it was now time to come home “to stay close to my family.”
“The jobs that I’ve had have required me to be on the road and I’ve done that despite having cancer twice,” she said. “When it hits your children it’s a totally different ball game.”
Foote did not reveal which of her children are affected directly, but said for now, “all is well, my children are well. But it is an eye opener and puts things in perspective.”
Her family never suggested “that I should give up jobs I love, the life that I love. But you know more than the jobs and the life, I love my family. So this decision is ours. It’s my decision to be with them, where I need to be and where they need me to be.”
Foote, who took leave of absence in April, said her absence from the cabinet table can’t continue. “The province needs representation in cabinet and to serve effectively requires being at the table.”
She will step down as MP for Bonavista-Burin-Trinity later this fall, which will trigger a by-election in what is a Liberal stronghold.
Foote was first diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years ago. She had a second bout three years ago, before the 2015 election.
“The reality is when something happens to you, you’re able to deal with it and you just keep going, and that’s what I did.”
She said after 28 years in politics, 11 as an elected provincial politician, and nine at the federal level, “I have not spent a lot of time at home with those I love.”
Since the spring, her ministerial duties had been covered off by cabinet colleague Jim Carr, who is natural resources minister, but Foote had recently returned to work at a number of appearances at events in her constituency.
Trudeau may use the occasion to re-set a number of other cabinet portfolios. He shuffled the cabinet more extensively than expected in January. He has committed himself to gender parity in his government’s executive ranks.
The MP for Bonavista-Burin-Trinity, Foote entered federal politics in 2008 after several years as a provincial cabinet minister and a past senior aide to former Newfoundland premier Clyde Wells. She was Trudeau’s caucus whip and deputy House leader when the Liberals were the third party on the opposition benches. Foote moved to Trudeau’s front bench and sat at his right hand in the Commons when the Liberals won the October 2015 election.
Although not unexpected, the timing of Foote’s announcement leaves Trudeau time to shuffle portfolios and bring in a new face or two, a refresh of his cabinet files nearly two years after taking power just before a cabinet retreat where the fall parliamentary agenda will be discussed. Another source suggested the shuffle will be a tweak, not a major changeup.
Two other Newfoundlanders have been the subject of much speculation as likely candidates for a promotion into cabinet: Gudie Hutchings, MP for Long Range Mountains, on Newfoundland’s west coast, parliamentary secretary for small business and tourism, and a woman; or Seamus O’Reagan, a former broadcaster and friend of Trudeau’s and his top aide, Gerry Butts. Shortly after winning his first election in the Liberal sweep, O’Reagan admitted he had an alcohol problem and went into a recovery program. He continued to have Trudeau’s trust and went to the Aga Khan’s island in the Bahamas with Trudeau and his family last Christmas.