A minor scandal over an inappropriate letter gave Prime Minister Stephen Harper the pretext he needed to dump now-former Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan from his cabinet.

Duncan submitted his resignation February 15 after a small uproar over his letter of recommendation for a constituent. The letter was addressed to the Tax Court, which is considered inappropriate for a cabinet minister. Nonetheless, the sudden resignation was unexpected.

Harper appointed Bernard Valcourt to replace Duncan in cabinet. Valcourt previously served in cabinet as Consumer and Corporate Affairs Minister and as the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

“I am surprised and saddened upon hearing of the resignation,” said Betty Ann Lavallee, National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. “He is a honourable man who was doing his best to improve the lives of all Aboriginal Peoples throughout Canada.  His contributions in moving the Aboriginal Agenda forward will not be forgotten.”

The resignation set off a social media firestorm, as many speculated over its timing. Mr. Duncan had increasingly been sidelined as the gridlock over major Aboriginal issues tightened and the Idle No More protests caught momentum. Observers felt Duncan had little influence over cabinet decisions on Aboriginal issues.

Mr. Duncan will remain the MP for the riding of Vancouver Island North